As 2020’s festival of lights comes to a close, take one last taste of Hanukkah cheer with these three uniquely Israeli Hanukkah traditions.
Forget the Olympics– this annual Hanukkah extravaganza has been a nation-wide phenomenon since 1966. Starting in the central-Israeli city of Modi’in– thought to be the home of the Maccabees– and stretching all the way across the country, the torch is passed hand-by-hand to the Western Wall, where it illuminates a giant hanukiah, and continues to be based to Knesset, the Prime Minister’s home, military bases, and celebrations all over the nation.
Sweet, fried doughs have long been a staple of the traditional Hanukkah diet, from honey-lathered Moroccan sfenj to the fried jelly-and-bread concoctions of Eastern Europe of yore. Today, I can buy delicious sufganiyot from my local Kosher bakery, where I always ask for– and occasionally receive– an extra squirt of strawberry jam or chocolate pudding. But few American bakeries do sufganiyot quite like the Israelis, who are taking their doughnut game to extreme heights with all sorts of gourmet concoctions. Trendy chefs in Tel Aviv– the doughnut capital of the world, at least for eight nights each winter– create colorful and imaginative gastronomic creations like Jacob’s Bakery’s chocolate-coated “hotdogs” with raspberry filling, strawberry “ketchup,” and passionfruit “mustard.” Or, my personal favorite: a Bazooka bubblegum themed doughnut, which just seems Israeli to a tee. With exotic sufganiyot flavors ranging from matcha green tea, to banana cream, to halva and cinnamon, Israelis just “donut” give up on their a-glaze-ing creations!
Though most businesses in secular areas do not close for the minor holiday, Israeli school calendars are centered around the Jewish holidays and students’ enjoy eight-day Hanukkah vacations. To keep school children occupied while parents work, an array of festive, kid-centric entertainment, ranging from plays to museum exhibitions sweep the nation. The biggest and most-anticipated show of the holiday season is Festigal, the nation’s largest music festival. Attracting thousands of visitors to shows in Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem every winter since 1981, the show features musical performances by Israeli celebrities and a back-up choir of musically-talented Israeli children, all acts surrounding the yearly theme, which in the past has ranged from robots and kung fu to cinematography. Its unique name is a mash-up of “festive” and “gal,” Hebrew for wave, as the event debuted in Haifa, nicknamed the “City of Waves.” Though the event has long been criticized for it’s over-the-top nature, expensive tickets, blatant commercialism, and not-particularly-Hanukkah-related content, it remains one of Israel’s most popular national events.