November 10th 2015
Chanukah is a special time in the Land of Israel. Darkness descends early this time year, but for eight nights in a row, Jewish homes all over Israel light Chanukah candles and, for a brief time, spread the light of rededication and divine inspiration.
Even if you’ve been lighting Chanukah candles your whole life, Chanukah in Israel is a bit different than what you might be used to. It isn’t difficult to make the case for Chanukah having a central place in Israel’s national identity. As its centerpiece, the State of Israel’s seal has a seven-branched menorah, reminiscent of the menorah used in the Holy Temple, relit by the Hasmonean priests following victory in the Chanukah narrative. The nine-branched menorah that is used for lighting on Chanukah is called a “chanukiah.”
To enjoy the brilliance of chanukiyot (plural of chanukiah), you won’t need a tour guide to show you around, as they are lit in nearly every traditional home across the land. After a long day of touring, you can wander around residential areas on your own, admiring and photographing Chanukah lights flickering beautifully inside and outside people’s windows. The majority of families place their lit chanukiyot in front-facing windows in order to fulfill the commandment of “pirsumei nisa” – to publicize the miracles of Chanukah. In Israel, many families take this principle especially seriously and light their chanukiyot in glass boxes. The glass box, about the size of a small fish tank, protects the flames from the wind, allowing a family to set their chanukiah outside their door.
Some especially scenic places to meander include the alleyways of these picturesque neighborhoods, which lend themselves well to abundant candlelight.
Meah She’arim is a neighborhood in Jerusalem where the sights, sounds and smells are reminiscent of Eastern European village life in the 19th century. Here, large ultra-Orthodox families live on top of one another, packed into tight quarters, and the sidewalks glow with the light of burning olive oil.
Not far from Jerusalem’s Machne Yehuda shuk, wander through the narrow alleys of Nachla’ot and marvel at the historic houses, courtyards and small synagogues. The cobblestoned neighborhood is populated by a mix of international expats, contemporary hippies, artsy bohemians and traditional blue-collar families, and the Chanukah lights on display here reflect this diversity.
The mystical flicker of Tzfat
Winding narrow streets, clear mountain air and multidirectional vistas overlooking nearby forests all contribute something of an otherworldly quality to the city of Tzfat. The Galilean city is a center of mystical learning and mystically themed art, so residents here take the act of spreading light extremely seriously – the ambiance can’t be beat.
Since Chanukah candles are generally lit close to sundown, you can enjoy the lights of Chanukah beginning around 5:00 PM and still go out for a festive dinner. To round out your Chanukah in Israel experience, be sure to end your meal with a traditional Chanukah sufganiyah pastry.