Celebrating an American Hanukkah in Israel

When it comes to most Jewish Holidays, Israeli and American Jews usually have a similar, if not identical outlook.  We both understand the importance of matza on Passover, learning Torah on Shavuot and eating apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah. But Hanukkah is a very different story.  While we both light candles and eat latkes, our customs differ greatly.  The following list seeks to explain the American Hanukkah customs to our Israeli brethren.

1 – As Americans, we give our children eight presents on Hanukkah.  Not one, not two, not five, but eight.  We do this because we believe that failing give a child eight presents will result in his or her desire to celebrate Christmas and will ultimately lead to said child intermarrying.

2 – The child should be given the best present the first night, a slightly lesser present the second night and so one every night so that the child becomes just slightly more disappointed with each passing night.  The goal is that by the eighth night, after several days of opening socks, shirts and pajamas, the child will wonder why this couldn’t have been a five day holiday.

3 – In America, we don’t have sufganiyot, we have donuts, and a single serving consists of ten.

4 – In the tradition of our gentile brethren back home, American Jews have reimagined Judah Maccabee as a bringer of gifts, comparable to Santa Claus.  At the same time, American Jews kept the more traditional elements of his identity in place.  We are proud that Judah Maccabee is not a jolly old man, but a Chuck Norris-esque, scimitar wielding Jew, who does not punish naughty children with coal in their stockings, but Hellenized Jews with decapitation. Notwithstanding, American Jewish children have a secret desire to find Judah Maccabee, sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Hannukah.  Americans are not afraid of being called Hellenists by Judah Maccabee because most Americans have no idea what Hellenism is, or can even locate Greece on a map.

5 – While there are approximately 15 different ways to spell Hanukkah in English, there is only one way to spell it in Hebrew.  We think that’s a bit narrow minded of Israelis.

6 – The appropriate Hanukkah movie for children is An American Tail.  For Israelis not familiar with this movie, the story is a mix of Oliver Twist, Fiddler on the Roof and Gangs of New York.  We love it because the lead character is Jewish, it takes placed during Hanukkah and we don’t care how crazy Don Bluth is, it’s the only major cartoon movie we have.  Prince ofEgypt doesn’t count because it takes place before the giving of the Torah; besides, it already has its own holiday.

7 – After lighting the candles, we sing the traditional song of Ma’oz Tzuer.  Unfortunately, while the song has six verses, American Jews only learn the first and fifth ones in Jewish Day School.  This results in our faking the rest of the song or else making up words entirely.

8 – Dreidel must be played during Hanukkah.  Traditionally, dreidel is played using chocolate coins for gambling.  Depending on one’s level of religious observance, some substitute chocolate coins for other types of food, real money, or removing articles of clothes.

We hoped this cleared the air a bit.


Your American Jewish Friends

About the Author
Jonathan Degani is a Personal Finance Advisor and blogger. His blog, Shomer Shekalim, empowers everyday Israelis to take control of their financial lives and make financial data usable, relevant and real.