Channukah is a special holiday in Israel – anyone and everyone, religious or not, celebrates in some way or another. Even non-Jews find themselves indulging in the many highlights of this beautiful holiday.
Being in the beginning of winter, Channukah falls during a magical time of year. Everyone is dusting off their winter coats, breaking out the space heaters, and preparing for another winter after an eternal summer. Of the hundreds of things to do in Israel tours during Channukah and “winter break”, here are the top five highlights and musts all around the country, in my humble opinion.
1. Eat a gourmet sufganiya (jelly filled doughnut).
While anyone in the world can probably find a good jelly filled doughnut somewhere in their vacinity, there is nothing quite like the sufganiyot that hit the bakeries during Channukah (actually about a month before but we don’t complain). It has become an art among the great pastry chefs and adventurous at home bakers.
Why sufganiyot? Channukah celebrates the miracle of the oil that did not burn out in the temple during the days of the Maccabees. Therefore, Channukah has become the holiday of food made in oil. Along with sufganiyot, we also eat the traditional potato latkes, Moroccan fried delecacy sphinge, and many other wonderful and fried culinary wonders.
2. Watch a giant menorah be lit, in a different place each night.
Channukah is the festival of lights, celebrating that the oil in the Temple lasted for 8 days and nights, when it was expected to last only one night. To commemorate this miracle, we light candles for every night for eight nights. Much like the giant Christmas tree in Rockfeller Plaza in New York City, there are many large menorahs around the country, which are lit for large groups of people every night of Channukah. For example, in Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, Chabad rabbis are lifted up in the air in order to light the large menorah. Or, in Tel Aviv Port, a larger than life menorah is built out of lights right on the water. In Jerusalem, you will find the same thing in and outside of the Old City. It is an incredible experience to see such large groups, lighting candles, and signing the blessings all together.
3. Visit Haifa for the Holiday of Holidays in Haifa.
Haifa is one of Israel’s most diverse cities. Its residents practice all religions, and so the city highlights its diversity by celebrating all the holidays together, during the Holiday of Holidays Festival. The festival opens the city to everyone, offering a variety of shows, exhibitions, tours, and culinary tourexperiences. Each year, the festival is based around a different theme, and artists from around the world base their art around the theme. It truly is the multicultural Israel experience and worth a visit!
4. Head to the Macabee Graves and Bar Kochva’s caves
If we’re celebrating the Macabee’s win over the Greek army, then we should certainly visit the homes and burial grounds of the Macabees! Located near Modi’in, the burial grouds are located in a beautiful park with many hiking paths, picnic grounds, and beautiful nature to take in. A bit south of the Macabbee burial grounds is the Beit Guvrin National Park. Here, you will find hundreds of caves from the days of Bar Kochva, another hero in Jewish history who beat the Romans against all odds, just like the Macabees. This area also has wonderful weather during December, as the bloom of poppies is just starting. After eating all of the fried food of Channukah, it’s nice to get out and hike through some historical sites of Israel.
5. Take your kids to one of the many children’s activities and shows around the country.
Just like Christmas break in other places in the world, Israel has Channukah break. Kids are off school for a week, and as such, many activities are provided. Some even for free! From events in Tel Aviv, to Jerusalem, all the way to Eilat, you can find something new every day to do with your kids for Channukah.
In all, Channukah is a pretty exciting time to visit Israel. Holiday fever is in the air. These highlights of the Festival of Lights are only a small piece of all of the truly exciting activities to try. Wishing all Chag Urim Sameach and a Happy Channukah from all of us at Puzzle Israel!