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Chanukah in Israel: why it’s simply better here


"Do they really celebrate Chanukah in chu"l???" (Outside of Israel - see this post!)

This Sunday, I brought English Chanukah songs for the girls I tutor.  One of them was amazed and asked me this outright.  She couldn’t believe that even in Canada, we celebrated Chanukah.

She knew that Jews everywhere celebrate most holidays, but Chanukah is so tied up in the Israeli psyche, our most nationalistic holiday besides Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day), that it must have seemed impossible to celebrate anywhere else.

And I have to admit: she’s right. 

Sure, you can celebrate Chanukah in chu”l, but you can’t feel it the way you do here.

I've always been humbug about Chanukah.  It's not that I hated it, but when we lived in Canada,

I always tried to downplay this season because of its proximity to... you know what.

You’ve gotta love it

But here in Israel, well, Chanukah has taken me by surprise.  It’s just so NICE.  It's impossible not to love it.

Take a look:  what's not to love???

  • Chanukah means… at least a few days off school (it used to be the whole time, but this year, our kids had school the first day)!
  • Chanukah means… mostly cool, nice weather - it's been shirtsleeves weather here in KShmu, but in Yerushalayim, you'll definitely want a jacket.
  • Chanukah means… family outings without worrying about finding a sukkah - or shlepping along matzah sandwiches!
  • Unlike most chagim, Chanukah means… religious families can drive wherever they want, head out to parties, whatever!
  • Chanukah means… most Israelis are in a cheerful good holiday mood!

Chanukah here is almost a completely different holiday.

What are the biggest differences you'll find between Chanukah in Israel and in North America?

The biggest differences

Here are a few, inspired by my observations and other Israelis’ facebook comments:

  • - The words: סביבון/sevivon, לביבה/levivah, דמי חנוכה/dmei Chanukah replace the Yiddish/English dreidel, latke and gelt.
  • - The object:  you light a חנוכיה/Chanukiah, period; not a מנורה/menorah, which just means "lamp."
  • - The snack: the main Chanukah treat is the סופגניה/sufganiyah, the national jelly donut of Israel.  They are everywhere; in grocery stores, bakeries and everywhere else you go.
  • - No gifts: despite the aggressive advertising push, many families don't give gifts.
  • - The songs: many are the same, but you won't find the "dreidel dreidel dreidel" (I made it out of clay) song here, thankfully.
  • - Lighting outdoors: many families light outdoors in a a special glass בית / bayit
  • - Open windows:  If they light indoors, they'll open the window wide to let the light shine out
  • - Different dreidels:  נ,ג,ה,פ: Nun, gimmel, hay, pay for "poh" - right here in Israel.  I brought pictures of chu"l dreidels for my students, because most have never seen the "shin" I grew up with.
  • - Living history:  Tiyulim (trips) and attractions throughout Chanukah and leading up to it tied in with the history of the Maccabees
  • - Menorahs everywhere: Everywhere you go, even in stores and places that don't need menorahs, they are lined up, both for sale and - at the appropriate time - lit with the proper brachas.

There’s only one minus, that I can see:  as with every other Jewish holiday is that everyone's on vacation at the same time.  This means you can expect crowds just about everywhere you want to go, as well as on trains, buses and major highways. 

But everyone's in a lovely festive mood, so just grin & bear it and you'll probably have a great time.

My bracha for you

What can I say?  I invite you to come experience it for yourself. 

And if it seems like an impossible miracle that you could ever find yourself living here, remember that this festival teaches us that all things are possible.  You do your part, Hashem will do His, and maybe we’ll find each other next Chanukah, lighting our menorahs outside together on the breezy, peaceful streets of Israel.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


  1. And you forgot the ubiquitous "חנוכה שמח" on all the bus number/destination displays.

  2. I've been here almost 32 years, and as far as i remember, there has always been school on the first day of chanukah.

  3. This post has been included in the latest Shiloh Musings: Blog Round-Up, HH of Sorts. Please take a look and share, thanks.


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