In Joshua’s Shoes: Hanukah in Jerusalem

By the time you read this Hanukah will be long gone, which is a shame. For such a minor holiday, Jerusalem does it so well!

Rope Light Hanukiyot (Photo: Alexis Pinsky)

Unlike in the US, I didn’t feel like I was hit over the head with the “coming holiday season.” About a week before the holiday some rope light hanukiyot started appearing all over the city, dreidles started appearing on shelves and all of the bakeries started selling sufganiyot. It was obvious that the holiday was coming soon, but it wasn’t the month and a half run-up I’m used to feeling in Minneapolis.

For the holiday, HUC thought it would be good for us to have a few days off, which was greatly appreciated. I took full advantage of the chance to actually catch up on some rest and a little exercise. But before many people left for their short trips, we had a Hanukah event at school. This included a chance for the group of us that would be singing at an event later in the week to practice the songs, and a short teaching from Rabbi Michael Marmur about the various meanings behind Hanukah.

After the discussion and lighting the candles we had a little Hanukah party, complete with a Latke Eating Contest. The Jerusalem Campus was challenged by the Los Angeles Campus to compete as a part of a Fundraiser for the IMPJ’s Ride4Reform, the contest took place during our party and it was a lot of fun! You can visit the Year In Jerusalem Ride4Reform blog to see videos from the event.

Latke Eating Contest (Photo: Marina Tecktiel)

The next night, one of my friends hosted a Shabbat dinner, complete with homemade sufganiyot, topping off a fantastic meal including her freshly fried latkes. I was surprised that two of the competitors were still able to stomach more of them.  And, I have to say, I had never thought of sweet potato latkes until this year, and they were much better than I had anticipated. It was a great night celebrating the holiday with a small group of people.

Hanukiyah Outside a House (Photo: Becca Walker)

Out walking the street I was shocked at how many hanukiyot there were all over the city. People had little boxes they could put them in so they can sit in front of homes. There were large community and neighborhood hannukiot all over the place, including a large lighting ceremony at the Gilad Shalit Adayyin Chai protest outside the Prime Minister’s house (It’s on my walk home from school and I passed it every night).

Aside from the places I expected hanukiyot, almost every restaurant had one.

Candle Lighting at a Restaurant (Photo: Rayna Dushman)

One night we were out to dinner and we hadn’t lit a hanukiyah yet. There was one sitting on the counter of our restaurant and one of my friends asked the waitress when they were going to light it. She immediately grabbed candles, put them in the hanukiyah and asked us if we wanted to do it. We blessed, and lit the candles. It was one of those moments that I hadn’t anticipated, and it was really cool to be a part of it.

Another night, the group I was singing with performed for a community celebration. We mixed in some Israeli melodies, some traditional melodies, Peter Yarrow’s “Light One Candle”, and Debbie Friedman’s “Not By Might” made an appearance too. It was awesome being a part of a their celebration of Hanukah and hearing another new way of understanding Hanukah (although I have to admit, listening to it in Hebrew is a lot harder than I thought).

On the last night of Hanukah, I wanted to go to the Kotel.

I had heard about the lighting that takes place on the Kotel Plaza, so after our lessons for the day were finished, I went with some friends to check it out. On top of a large platform were nine massive cauldrons set up in the shape of a hanukiyah, and there was another one sitting right next to the Kotel at the micheitzah.

Kotel Hanukiyah Lighting (Photo: Alexis Pinsky)

As it got dark, a group of people ascended the platform and recited the blessings. The mass of people, although not as large as I thought, listened attentively to the Sephardic nusach and responded, “Amen.” It was chilling, in a good way, to hear such a resounding sound in unison. After the flames were lit, everyone returned to their chatter and snapping pictures as “mahoz tzur” played in the background.

A few minutes later the music was cut off and another rabbi approached the hanukiyah at the base of the Kotel. In a thick Ashkenazi accent he recited the blessings and the now silent mass of people responded, “Amen,” in unison. The lights were kindled and my friends and I decided that we would walk back through Mamilla Mall and stop at Roladin for our final sufganiyot.

Here was the familiar holiday rush I was used to.

The place was packed with people pushing and shoving to get through the “line” to pick which flavors they wanted. I decided that I only needed three more, so I gabbed a caramel/toffee popcorn, pistachio chocolate, and chocolate with whipped cream. Yum! They were all as good as they sound.

Whether it was being reminded of the miracle of the oil, throwing off Assyrian rule, reclaiming the Temple or simply bringing light into our lives in the darkest, coldest part of the year. Hanukah was a great experience this year for me. Even if it meant that I wasn’t able to take part in my family traditions (I miss “speed shopping” at Ridgedale Mall), I had a fantastic holiday with some great people around me.

A Belated, “Chag Urim Sameach” from Jerusalem,

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About Brian Nelson

Brian Nelson has spent the last 25 years living in or near Minneapolis. After completing a B.A. in History at the University of Minnesota, he worked for Temple Israel, Mount Zion and Bet Shalom in a variety of capacities. While working in the Reform Movement, Brian developed a passion for Reform Judaism and is currently studying at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in the Rabbinical School.

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