Holidays in a New Light

Holidays in a New Light

As this issue of the Journal arrives in homes, we will be celebrating Hanukkah in Milwaukee. Each year it seems that Hanukkah becomes more and more visible in our community. Last year, the JCC worked with Merchants of Whitefish Bay to begin a menorah lighting tradition on Silver Spring Drive which will be continuing this year. Large menorahs can be found outside businesses throughout our community, and even Target is constantly expanding upon the fun Hanukkah products they put out on shelves.

But have you ever wondered what Hanukkah looks like in Israel? The mitzvah of Hanukkah is to publicize the miracle to the outside world which is why a Hanukkah menorah, also called hanukkiyiah, is meant to be placed in the window of the home. Here in America not everyone lights their hanukkiyah where it can be seen by the outside world, so it may be hard to imagine a place where Hanukkah is the most visible December holiday in town.

The Shamah Family spent Hanukkah in Israel two years ago which was not new to Rabbi Shari Shamah, but it was to her 3 children. “Walking through the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem you see glass boxes that are Hannukiyot displayed outside the homes. They’re often oil lamps that illumine the whole Jewish Quarter. The Kotel (Western Wall) is lit up in colorful lights and huge Hannukiyot are on many street corners. It’s all about sharing the light.”

Each year, the Hanukkah Torch Relay sees people lining the road from the city of Modi’in, located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to Jerusalem’s Old City, to pass a burning torch hand to hand. That torch then lights the giant hanukkiyah at the Kotel.
Even though Hanukkah is all about publicizing the miracle to the outside world, it is not the only holiday that is noticeably
Holidays different in Israel.

Another celebration coming up on our winter calendar is the holiday of Purim. The primary mitzvah of Purim is to hear the Book of Esther which recounts the saving of the Jews from a threatened massacre during the Persian period. This joyous community holiday is celebrated by holding carnivals, wearing costumes, and performing farce.
Last February, a delegation of 17 JCC staff members spent two weeks in Israel in the time leading up to Purim. Many in the group were surprised to see large store displays of costumes and groggers (noise makers) not only in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, but also in the small villages surrounding our Sovev Kinneret partnership region. “It was like Halloween displays back home,” noted Jess Lanke, Director of Recreation and Aquatics.

Another item that was visible (and tasted) all throughout Israel was hamantaschen, the yummy triangular pastries that are a staple of any Purim celebration. “At home, the hamantashcen are usually filled with fruit or poppy seed fillings, but when we popped into a bakery in Tel Aviv one day, they had dozens of unique and tempting hamantaschen fillings – dulce de leche, pistachio cream, salted caramel chocolate – it was almost impossible to decide which to try,” remembers Sarah Siegel, Engagement Director.

While often we think of the holidays as a time to stick close to home and carry out family traditions, it can be enlightening to travel and see how holidays are celebrated elsewhere. And when it comes to the Jewish holidays, there is no place like Israel to find a new perspective on the traditions and customs that make up these special celebrations. Chag sameach (happy holiday)!