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An Israeli Celebration of Hanukkah

Posted on: November 18th, 2014
Israeli kids celebrating Hanukkah

In the US, Hanukkah ranks as one of the most popular of the Jewish holidays, but did you know that it’s a big leap from the way it’s traditionally celebrated in Israel? In fact, Hanukkah is viewed as a minor holiday!

Here comes your history lesson for the day… In 168 B.C.E., a Syrian tyrant took over Jerusalem and desecrated the temple with the altars and idols of the Greek gods. Jews who did not worship the Greek gods were put to death. In response, a family of priests known as the Maccabees led a resistance movement that eventually pushed the Syrians out of Jerusalem. The people decided to purify and rededicate the Temple after its defilement. When they went to relight the Eternal Light, they found only one small jar of oil, which would only last one day. It took a messenger 8 days to collect the rest of the necessary oil, and yet the light miraculously burned for the entire 8 day period. Hanukkah is celebrated in remembrance of this miracle.

In Israel, the holidays mentioned in the Hebrew Bible are viewed as most significant and given special attention. Hanukkah, however, does not actually appear in the Hebrew Bible. Instead, it is found in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. So while this is certainly historically important, in Israel, it does not receive the same level of attention that it does here in the US. Israelis celebrate on a much smaller scale. Chocolate coins and dreidels are given to children, candles are lit, and children makes crafts or go to parties. Also, fried foods such as doughnuts are eaten to represent the oil in the miracle.

So how did we go from the simple, modest observance of Israel to the grand festivities of the US? Old Saint Nick can take the credit for that one. With Christmas being celebrated so close to Hanukkah, some of the traditions have merged to an extent. Unlike Israeli children, American children receive gifts over the course of the 8 day celebration. This is believed to have been picked up from the Christian tradition of receiving gifts from Santa Clause. It is not surprising that neighbors share customs with each other. In fact, many of the most popular Christmas traditions are borrowed from other cultures as well. Aside from some of the holiday practices, there is one major element that is shared by both Hanukkah and Christmas. Both were born and bred in Israel!


Christina Peters, Israel Tours
September, 2014


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