Chanukah in the Holy Land: ROUND II

I know, I know, who really cares, Chanukah is Chanukah, right?

No, wrong! Well, right, but here, it’s just different. In an amazing way.

Here, just walking the streets, for weeks already (almost since the end of the High Holidays!) you could feel the Festival of Lights in the air!

So yea, I’m excited! No, scratch that, I’m super EXCITED! Oh, what the heck, I’M SO EXCITED I don’t know what to do with myself! I’m thrilled to pieces.

But why?

As I prepare to celebrate Chanukah with office mates, cousins, my brother & friends visiting from the USA, I am also honored, and privileged to illuminate the world with two Taglit-Birthright Israel: MAYANOT groups.

For many of the participants on our first groups of the season, this may be their first authentic Chanukah experience. That is awesome, if I may say so (and yes, I may).

So, with that, I present my list, eight reasons I’m excited to celebrate Chanukah in Israel. I hope everyone I am celebrating with, including the Mayanot groups, can feel some of the immense joy and Jewish pride during their celebrations as well.

Sufganiyot at Mahane Yehudah Shuk (Photo: Levi Margolin)

1) Sufganiyot are so good, they’re a miracle themselves.

Confession: I am really not that much of a sufganiyot kinda guy. To be honest, back in Canada and The States, I hardly ate them. However, here, they are like Pringles; ‘Once you pop, you can’t stop.’

Yes, they really are that good! Custard, Jelly, Chocolate and more… Wow. Simply, wow!

 

2) I can buy latkes in no less than eight places on my 15 minute walk to work.

Now, latkes on the other hand have always been a weak spot for me. Can never get enough. I remember as a kid, I would try to make them. The mess was greater than the destruction of the temple we’re commemorating, but hey, I didn’t care, I had fresh, homemade potato pancakes soakin’ in oil.

Here you can pick the flavor of delicacy that best suits you. Like cumin? Carrots? How about sweet potatoes? Spicy? Broccoli? Sweet & sour (yup!)? You want it we’ve go it… at a special price, just for you.

Oh, and good luck getting to work on time.

Chabad Menorah in Zion Square, Town Center, Jerusalem (Photo: Levi Margolin)

3) The Streets are lined with Menorahs.

“There are no cats in America and the streets are paved with cheese.” (Yes, I just quoted “An American Tail”) The saying is almost true. Well, if you replace ‘America’ with ‘Israel,’ forget the part about “no cats” and change the last three words to “lined with menorahs” that is.

There’s plenty of Sabra felines and holy cheeses (is that Swiss cheese?) here, but at Chanukah time, the streets of Jerusalem are lined with menorahs! You know those “holiday lights” you see everywhere back in the States? Yea, we have them too. Except here, the lights spell menorahs all over town.

And what’s more, those Chabad menorahs you see in random places around the world? Multiply that by ten here. Every neighborhood (sometimes, every block!) has its very own.

Menorah at the Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas (Photo: Levi Margolin)

Menorah at the Venetian Hotel, Las Vegas (Photo: Levi Margolin)

4) The flickering flames of the Menorah are Everywhere.

I was vacationing on the West Coast over Chanukah, 2011 and was not expect to see many menorahs (besides the aforementioned, huge Chabad menorahs). I stood at the Venetian in Vegas marveling over Sheldon Adelson’s menorah displayed out front and I nearly drove off a cliff when we passed a house in a beautiful, quiet, hilly San Fran neighborhood with a menorah in the window.

Even as a 27 year old grown man I yelled at my friend with me, “Yanky, look! It’s a Menorah in the window!” (And yes, I jumped out to photograph it.) Forgive me. I’m from Nowhere, VA. Umm, I mean Norfolk, sorry. But still. Growing up, seeing menorahs in the window was as exciting as Halley’s Comet, even if we knew who the people were 90% of the time!

Here, you don’t know who most of the people are, yet they ALL have menorahs. And they are not only in the window. They are on the front lawn, on top of cars, in bars, restaurants and everywhere in between.

Indeed, the miracle of Chanukah is well known in these parts.

 

5) The buses tell you Happy Chanukah!

This was exciting when I first came to Israel.

I arrived just before the High Holidays and the moving banners on the buses flashed the message “Shana Tova” for all to see. Cool, huh?

Yea, well, for Chanukah they do that too and guess what? It’s still super cool. Even if everyone around you is acting crabby (change in weather?) and no one wishes you “Chanukah Sameach,” Egged Buses will take care of you.

My menorah, candles, wicks and "special olive oil" ready to go. (Photo: Levi Margolin)

My menorah, candles, wicks and “special olive oil” ready to go. (Photo: Levi Margolin)

6) It’s the “beforethought” not the afterthought!

Yea, that’s right. It’s in the blood. Chanukah is as natural here as Thanksgiving is there. (No, I will NOT make a ‘Thanksgivikkuh” reference!). Actually, I think it’s more natural.

We’ve been swimming in sufganiyot for a month, it seems even ball-pits at kids’ playgrounds are filled with them. And, last week alone 47 different salespeople tried to sell me their “Shemen Zayit Meyuchad” (special olive oil).

Chanukah is even THE holiday they are referring to when they say “Happy Holidays” (“Chag Sameach”) here. How’s that for hella’ Jewish?

Clay Israeli Dreidel. Crafted by people with cognitive disabilities at the Yahad Center for employment and rehabilitation in Be'er Sheva, Israel. (Photo: Levi Margolin)

Clay Israeli Dreidel. Crafted by people with cognitive disabilities at the Yahad Center for employment and rehabilitation in Be’er Sheva, Israel. (Photo: Levi Margolin)

7) The miracle… it happened HERE.

You know that Chanukah miracle they talk about? The one with the small amount of oil that was meant to last a day but lasted eight? The destruction and rededication of the Temple? All that good stuff? Yea, that happened in our backyard.

It’s not even like a famous movie being filmed in your neighborhood. It’s like real history unfolding on your property. Ancient history at that. And even better, it’s OUR history.

I was taught in pre-school about the Israeli dreidels and the different letter display on them: Nun, Gimel, Hey were the same, but in Israel there’s a Pey. For, Nes gadol haya po. A great miracle happened here. HERE I tell ya!

Listen, dreidel is fun, but this makes it real, even if no one knows the actual rules…

 

8) Everyone is celebrating. All of us.

EVERYONE is in on this one! It’s pretty cool to witness. Everyone wants a Menorah, everyone’s looking to light up that holy flame!

Everyone wants to celebrate. People come out of the woodwork almost literally, to celebrate this holiday. Here, that means a lot more to me.

With recent struggles over religious beliefs and relations between different Jewish communities, this means one thing to me. Jewish Unity!

This is how it’s meant to be! This is a modern miracle of Chanukah.

Chabad Menorah, Town Pointe Park, Norfolk, VA. (Photo: Levi Margolin)

Chabad Menorah, Town Pointe Park, Norfolk, VA. (Photo: Levi Margolin)

So, get out there, Israel, put on your Yarmulka and celebrate Chanukah. Get the Jewish Jingles ready, bust out the candles, hold your Shammash high in the air, spread the light and declare your pride!

Happy Chanukah!