Hanukah in Israel
After a decade of Hanukahs here, one thing about the way the Festival of Lights is celebrated in Israel never ceases to amaze me: the total absence of Christmas. In the states, Hanukah's relation to Christmas is of crucial concern. The more the two holidays overlap, the more that Jews will be celebrating their winter holiday at the same time that the majority of Americans are celebrating theirs. In Israel, Christmas is simply not on the radar screen for most Israelis, and so Hanukah bears no relationship with Christmas.
Since I grew up in the States and only moved here at the age of 36, I can not help but think of Hanukah in relation to Christmas. And so I know that this year Hanukah is very "early," (beginning Wednesday night December 5)—and I also know what this means in America. An early Hanukah is extremely disconcerting for many American Jews. It's sort of like a Marano holiday: the Jews are celebrating in their homes while the outside world is filled with anticipation for Christmas. You are wished "Merry Christmas" all throughout your holiday—though December 25th is over two weeks away. There are broadcast and print media pieces on Hanukah, and someone has taped a paper menorah near the water cooler where you work, but these cannot put a dent in the general feeling of Chirstmas spirit in the outside world.
As is the case ever year, Hanukah in Israel is always on time. It is never early or late. And while Israeli life is geared toward the Gregorian calendar (so that, unlike Christmas, even knowledgeable Israelis have to do some figuring in order to tell you when is the first night of Hanukah), one can gage the date of Hanukah by the availability and variety of sufganiyot (donuts). The sufganiyot start making their appearance in October, shortly after the conclusion of Judaism's Fall holidays. As Hanukah nears, donut makers get more ambitious both in terms of quantity and quality—augmenting the traditional strawberry jelly filling with butterscotch, chocolate, and even guava and passion fruit as well as experimenting with more sophisticated donut coatings than the suual powdered sugar.
I have to admit that left to its lonesome, there's some drama missing in a Hanukah without Christmas. After all, as our prayers remind us, Hanukah was about a victory of " The spirit of Hanukah sort of come to life more in a culture where you have to fight for it more insisit on its place. When you put your hanukiyah (menorah) on your window sill in the diapsora you feel more that you are making a statement that you are doing something to spread the Hanukah spirit. The 6 or 7 hanikiyot that we light on our windowsill in Givat Ze'ev look nice, but one doesn't quite sense that one has just done an act worthy of the Maccabees as in the diaspora.
This is not to say of course that life here in the Jewish State is without tension. A number of our neighbors help make life in Israel exciting in a Maccabean way all throughout the year. But the state is the focus rather than the Jewish individual. And the stakes are much much higher than whether or not to get offended if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas. Personally, I can report that the stakes in my immediate family have just move up a notch. On Wednesday November 14 my daughter Rebecca joined her brother Nathan as a soldier in Israeli's Defense Forces. Happy Hanukah.
Copyright 2007, Teddy Weinberger