(December 12, 2017 / JNS) By Adam Abrams/JNS
Is it possible to stay entertained for “eight crazy nights?” For the wintertime extravaganza of Hanukkah, Israel offers a wide selection of cultural, culinary and religious activities to pack any tourist or resident’s schedule.
Ahead of Hanukkah 2017 (celebrated Dec. 12-20), JNS presents eight ways to mark the holiday—one for each night—in Jerusalem and throughout the Jewish state.
1. Fresh latkes and sufganiyot
While lighting oil-filled lamps on the menorah is how Jews traditionally commemorate the miracle of Hanukkah, eating festive foods fried in oil has long been a popular aspect of the holiday.
“Special tastes of Hanukkah, such as doughnuts with myriad of fillings and other fried delicacies are available at virtually every bakery and food store,” Israeli Tourism Ministry spokesperson Anat Sichr Aronson told JNS.
Bakeries, restaurants and markets across Israel serve up latkes as well as creative selections of sweet deep-fried doughnuts—called sufganiyot—throughout the holiday. For the do-it-yourself type of person, these treats can also be made at home.
2. Menorah lighting at the Western Wall
Every evening throughout the “festival of lights,” the large menorah at the Western Wall is lit in a public ceremony attended by some of the country’s leading rabbis and officials. If you happen to be in Jerusalem at the time, the menorah lighting at the holy site is what many consider a special spiritual experience. The lighting ceremony occurs shortly after sunset, which is around 4:30 p.m. during the winter season in Jerusalem.
3. Jerusalem hanukkiot tours
During the eight nights of Hanukkah, residents of Jerusalem place their menorahs in windows and in glass boxes outside their homes to share the holiday lights with passersby. The sheer number of lit menorahs glowing amid Jerusalem’s ancient limestone walls creates a unique ambiance.
The Jerusalem municipality organizes “hanukkiot tours” to take visitors through the holy city’s neighborhoods to see various Hanukkah menorahs, Aronson said. “Tourists can take advantage of the evening walking tours through these neighborhoods, where they can enjoy seeing the hanukkiot lit in windows and even on walls and on the streets,” she said. “During this time of year there is a unique festive atmosphere that is felt throughout the country, but nowhere more so than in the small alleyways in the Jerusalem neighborhoods.”
Jerusalem’s annual winter festival, Hamshushalayim, occurs during four consecutive weekends (from Thursday-Saturday), with events ranging from concerts and plays to street performances, exhibitions and special tours. There are also plenty of family-oriented activities available in the city throughout Hamshushalayim.
Hamshushalayim events in previous years have included movie screenings, puppet shows, the Israel-Ethiopian Arts Festival, classic flamenco music and ladino dance nights.
This year’s Jerusalem Jazz Festival takes place Nov. 29-Dec. 1, before Hanukkah. Institutions participating in Hamshushalayim that offer free entry on certain days have included the Herzl Museum, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, the Bloomfield Science Museum, Yad Vashem and the Tower of David Museum, among others.
Israel’s largest cultural institution has an extensive collection of art, archaeological findings and Judaica, as well as a youth section for children and a fine arts wing offering an eclectic display of modern, Israeli, European and contemporary art.
“During Hanukkah we offer free entrance for children, as we do every holiday,” a museum spokesperson told JNS. “We will have a daily workshop called ‘Art After Light,’ a fireworks show every evening, a puppet show for kids and an exhibition in the youth wing where children can build menorahs.”
6. Wine tasting
Although there is no specific obligation to drink during Hanukkah, Israel has some 250 wineries, many of which offer special tastings and tours during the holiday’s eight days. Tzuba Estate Winery in the Judean Hills and Psagot Winery in Binyamin hold events during Hanukkah. The award-winning Tulip Winery in Kfar Tikva has also hosted wine tastings with menorah lightings during the festival.
7. Ancient Modi’in
Modi’in was the hometown of the Maccabees, who led the revolt against the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire that culminated in a miraculous military victory and the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.
Residents of modern-day Modi’in visit the ancient Umm el-Umdan synagogue to light menorahs and pray. A trip to Modi’in’s ancient sites during Hanukkah is a way to connect with Jewish history and add deeper meaning to the holiday.
The Bible Lands Museum—located across the street from the Israel Museum—offers dozens of galleries and exhibits focusing on societies in the ancient Near East, from the dawn of civilization to the beginning of the Christian era. During Hanukkah, the museum features holiday-themed exhibits, tours and workshops.