Over 2,000 years ago, the Jewish people were ruled by the oppressive Syrian king Antiochus, who looted and desecrated the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, outlawed the Jewish religion, and used harsh measures to force the Jews to worship Greek gods.
King Antiochus made many attempts to gain control of the Jews in Judea, to the point of forcing them to eat the forbidden flesh of a sacrificed pig from the temple altar. This effort only served to provoke a full-scale armed rebellion.
A man named Judah, nicknamed “the hammer” (“Maccabee,” in Hebrew) assembled a group of people to fight back. For three years, the Maccabees battled the Syrians for control of Judea and eventually won in 139 BC.
The Maccabees built a new altar and cleaned the Temple, removing all Greek symbols. According to tradition, when the Maccabean Jews came to light the temple’s menorah, they discovered there was only enough oil to keep it aflame for one day. Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil burned for a full eight days, enough time for additional oil to be prepared. This miracle proved that God was once again with His people. The temple was rededicated to the God of Israel.
A menorah is a lampstand with seven branches. But Hanukkah is celebrated by using a hanukiah (nine-branched lampstand). The hanukiah has nine branches to remind all who celebrate Hanukkah of the eight-day miracle from God, with one additional “servant light” from which the other candles can be lit.
Hanukkah, also known as the “Festival of Lights,” is a very special time of year for Jewish people in Israel and all over the world. Jesus also celebrated Hanukkah (John 10:22). If you happen to be in Israel during the Hanukkah season, you’ll find plenty of ways to celebrate and enjoy all that it has to offer.
Hanukkah in Israel
While the date of Hanukkah changes each year because of the Jewish lunar calendar, the holiday is traditionally observed for eight days and eight nights, but unlike other Jewish holidays, all attractions and stores remain open.
If you are a donut lover, then Hanukkah will appeal to your palate. You will see a lot of fried food during the holiday—keeping in mind that oil is central to the celebration. The most famous food during Hanukkah is the sufganiot, a round donut filled with jam and usually dusted with powdered sugar. Sufganiot is a staple of this holiday, with an estimated 24 million eaten in Israel each year.
We must not forget the hot and crispy latke, a shredded potato delicacy mixed with pancake mix and egg and fried to a luscious golden brown. These treats are always a crowd favorite, particularly among children, who can be found eating them while they play dreidel, a traditional Hanukkah game using a four-sided top with four Hebrew letters on each side.
While you can certainly enjoy Hanukkah during the daytime, the experience is even more enjoyable once the sun goes down. Strap on your walking shoes, and take advantage of special Hanukkah night walking tours, particularly in Jerusalem. As you walk, you can see the many hanukiot (plural of hanukkiah) on display in the windows of private homes, storefronts, or public centers.
Hanukkah is one of the most festive of Jewish holidays, and almost everywhere you turn there are family-friendly musical productions, concerts, and dance productions.
Lighting of the Menorah – Western Wall (Kotel)
Every city in Israel has a large hanukkiah situated in the public square, on which an additional candle is lit on each night of the holiday.
One of the most famous hanukiah lightings is at the Western Wall (Kotel) in the Old City of Jerusalem. To see the Kotel wall ablaze with the lights of all eight nights – casting a warm, ethereal glow over the scores of celebrants – is an ideal way to end your Hanukkah celebration!
Experience Hanukkah on your next trip to Israel!