Hanukkah is the second most loved holiday in Israel, after Purim. (Personally, I prefer Passover). How illuminating this holiday is! Before I give you a peek at how it is celebrated in Israel and some spectacular facts at the end, let's briefly discuss the history. The Greeks ruled the Land of Israel more than two thousand years ago, forcing the Jewish Israelites to convert. Against all odds, a small group of devoted Jews defeated one of the world's most powerful armies, drove the Greeks out, reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem, and rededicated it to the service of the God of Israel. That group is also known as "The Maccabees," which is an acronym for "Who is like You among the Mighty Adonai."
When the Israelites wanted to light the Menorah inside the temple, they discovered only one jar of olive oil had survived the Greek destruction. The quantity, which was supposed to be enough for one day only, miraculously burned for eight days, until they were able to produce new oil in purity. The scholars declared the holiday of Hanukkah in memory of these miracles and to publicize them. The Menorah is at the center of the holiday. On the first night, we light one candle, on the second night two candles, and so on until the eighth night of Hanukkah, when we light all eight candles.
The prayers "On the Miracles" and "Hallel" are said on the holiday to praise and thank God. (Some write it as G-d) We typically eat foods fried in oil, such as a donuts (Sufganiyah) with jam or other fillings, fritters, and "sffing" - a Moroccan donut with a hole in the middle (similar to donuts in shape) deep fried with sugar on top. We play dreidel, and it is also customary to give out a small sum of money as a gift to grandchildren and the family’s young kids.
In Israel, you can see a magical and shimmering spectacle coming from the light emanating from the menorah if you walk down the streets in the evening during the holidays and look through the windows of homes. Walking around during the day might have you fight the desire for "just half a donut to taste”, thanks to the addictive aromas emanating from bakeries and caressing the streets. You can find donuts in different sizes and flavors- cheap, expensive, and a very expensive crème brulé flavor. Wow, what a delightful dish.
To be honest, my favorite part of the holiday is that every night candle lighting is an invitation to a party. We go to the neighbors one evening, visit family members, meet with all our friends the next, and so on. This is an ideal time to visit our loved ones, and the best part is that there is time for everyone.
I promised you interesting information at the end, and I always follow through on my promises. As previously noted, the holiday of Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabees, who saved the Jewish people. In their wake, a youth movement known as "Maccabi
World Union" emerged in 1929, just a few years before the Holocaust began, and provided a platform for Jewish athletes who were unable to participate in sports teams and games – just because of them being Jewish (maybe say because of discrimination against Jews- antisemitism). The movement grew and spread around the world, eventually becoming the home of Jewish sports- they are in charge of getting our athletes to the Olympics! Today, Maccabi is one of the world's largest organizations, primarily through sports, which brings Diaspora Jews closer to Israel, educates and teaches an appreciation and love of Israel.
There are numerous sports teams (soccer, basketball, etc.) that bear the organization's name, as well as health funds and a youth movement with many branches in Israel and around the world, including the United States.
I came here, to you, on behalf of this organization and the Jewish Agency. In Sunday School, we started talking about influential and important people for Israel who grew from Maccabi. Also, the children began to learn about the geographical overview of the State of Israel. We will all go through a series of activities and workshops related to Israel, Judaism, and Maccabi over the next year in order to be exposed to our beautiful culture, Israel's enormous contribution to the world, and, most importantly, to connect and strengthen together as a community.
It is important for me to keep getting to know you all, hear your stories, and, of course, have you at our next meetings. In addition, I'd like to thank the wonderful families who invited me over, traveled with me, and welcomed me into their homes!
You are more than welcome to follow everything that is going on, on my Instagram page (stav_shlicha) and to send me an email regarding anything that is on your mind.
I wish you all a joyous and warm holiday, filled with light, and with hope that we will always be surrounded by the ones we love.