The Israeli Hanukkah

December 6, 2010

Ask anyone who knows me well–I have an insatiable sweet tooth.  However, it’s anything but ordinary; I usually pass on cakes, chocolates, pies, and cookies.  My weakness is candy.  Pre-packaged or bulk, I’d be willing to bet I’ve tasted almost every artificially flavored option out there.  It’s a love that has brought me down the aisles of CVS Pharmacies and Walgreen’s across the country.  Because of this, I’ve been exposed to every seasonal item and decoration (the “holiday” aisle is always next to or inside of the candy aisle, isn’t it?).

Thus I anticipate each holiday, waiting for the day when the pumpkin-shaped Snicker’s becomes a Christmas tree, a heart, an Easter egg, and so on and so forth.  America has made its holidays into a marathon of consumerism.  (I would like to point out that I have no problem with this and seriously enjoy anything with a theme, especially candy).

Well, here I am; it’s December in Israel and I’m thousands of miles from a CVS.   I’m in a Jewish country and to tell you the truth, I couldn’t wait to see what they had in store for Hanukkah.  But as November drew to a close, I was yearning for a symbol of the next holiday; blue and silver wrapped candies, chocolate gelt, anything that would tell me of Hanukkah’s approach.

To my surprise, Hanukkah arrived quietly and tastefully (no spray-painted frost in the windows or reindeer on the lawn).  On the first day I began to notice small menorahs in store windows and tables of sufganiyot, or donuts, at the front of gelato shops.

As the sun sets on day five, I’m loving every bit of this non-Hallmark holiday.  Town squares across Tel Aviv have evening candle-lighting ceremonies with singing and dancing.  Every bakery window is filled with trays and trays of sufganiyot.  Children walk home from school with construction-paper menorah headbands.

Hanukkah in Israel is all about gatherings.  Each night I have experienced Hanukkah in a different way and with different people; every celebration includes songs, candle-lighting, and plenty of sufganiyot.  I have yet to see anyone walking down the street with gift-wrap and presents, a staple of December in America.

Maybe it’s the lack of Christmas competition, but Israelis don’t seem to care about making a big fuss over the holiday.  And although I’m left craving peppermint candy canes from Walgreen’s, it has all been a delightfully pleasant change.

Sufganiyot at the bakery by my building...