Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel

On the eve of the 24th of Kislev, or December 1, the Jewish world will begin to celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights. The holiday commemorates the victory of the Maccabees against the Greek suppression of Judaism, and for many people symbolizes the Jewish struggle against different oppressors throughout history. Judah Maccabee and his brothers led the Jewish rebellion against the Greeks.

In Israel, the special Hanukkah mood begins when bakeries and supermarkets start selling sufganiyot, or doughnuts, at least a month in advance. The tempting smell fills the air, and it’s impossible for most Israelis to resist. The average Israeli will eat almost seven doughnuts during the week of Hanukkah, and only 20 percent won’t eat any at all.

Doughnuts aren’t the only food we eat. Since the holiday commemorates the miracle that occurred when a jug of consecrated oil that should have lasted for one night actually lasted for eight, we celebrate this event with oily foods, which include latkes, or pancakes. This custom of eating oily foods is at least nine hundred years old, and we find mention of it in the writings of Rabbi Maimon, father of Maimonides.

Another aspect of Hanukkah best seen in Israel is the menorahs shimmering in so many windows. In some neighborhoods, each window is a show of lights and colors. It’s the custom for each child to light her own menorah, so many windows display several, which makes for a beautiful sight. Major buildings post large menorahs on the roof tops. Each menorah not only announces the victory over the Greeks, but signals Jewish sovereignty and pride.

Hanukkah means a week off from school for Israeli kids. The rainy weather keeps families indoors, so Hanukkah has become the time for children’s festivals. Throughout the country, various recreational activities for families take place.  Hanukkah is also the most popular time of the year for gatherings and parties. Most people will have a party to go to on each Hanukkah evening.

Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday that encourages giving money that is not tzedakah or charity. Hanukkah gelt, or gifts, are distributed mostly to children. Happy Hanukkah, wherever you are!

This year, try this recipe for Sufganiyot (doughnuts)


* 25 grams (1 ounce) yeast

* 1 tbsp. sugar

* 1 tbsp. water

* 1 tbsp. flour

* 3 cups flour

* 50 grams (1/4 cup) margarine, melted

* dash of salt

* 3 tbsp. sugar

* 2 egg yolks

* 1 1/4 cups water (room temperature)

* jelly (strawberry is recommended)

* oil for frying (canola is recommended)

* powdered sugar


1. To make the dough: Combine the first four ingredients in a bowl. Mix well, cover, and let dough rise. In another bowl, mix 3 cups of flour with the melted margarine, salt, sugar and egg yolks. Combine the yeast mixture with the flour mixture. Slowly add water while stirring. When batter is smooth, cover the bowl with a towel and let it rise again.

2. To make the doughnuts: After the batter has risen, place it onto a floured surface and roll it out. Use a glass or doughnut cutter to cut out circles of dough. Place a drop of jelly in the middle of each circle, and then cover with another circle of dough. Make sure the two circles attach well to form a closed ball with jelly in the middle. Cover the doughnuts with a towel and let rise.

3. To fry the doughnuts: Heat oil in a deep pot until very hot. Drop the doughnuts into the oil and fry on both sides until brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

TIP: These sufganiyot are only good fresh. After you make the dough, only fry a few at a time. Store the rest of the dough in the refrigerator.

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