Today is the first day of . Last night we lit one candle; tonight we will light two (and tomorrow is the second day). This is because, according to Jewish law, the day begins at night. We learn this from the Chumash (Pentateuch), when it says, “. . . and it was evening, and it was morning, the first day . . .” (Gen. 1:5) (Hanuka)
This is actually nice, because it means that instead of eight days off, we get eight and a half – to every holiday, we add the day before to the count of vacation. Sometimes, it is only a half day. But a half day of vacation is better than none, right? However, the vacation is necessary: Chanuka candles (or any holiday candles, and most of our holidays begin with them) need to be lit just after (or before, depending on the day of the week and/or the family’s custom) sunset. Today, that will be around 4:45 pm. Imagine if schools weren’t off! Pick-up would be at 3:30pm, and by the time you arrived home, you would be rushing to light the menora. Doesn’t sound like too much holiday fun, huh?
In Israel, preparation for Chanuka starts at the beginning of the previous month. Chanuka starts on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. The beginning of the previous month, is the beginning of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, just a week or so after the end of the holiday of Sukkot. Suddenly, on all the lamp posts, you see Chanuka menoras. Stores put up Chanuka decorations. Some people do give presents every night, but many, if not most, do not give children presents every night, if at all. Bakeries start making sufganiyot (pronounced soof-gan-ee-ot), the special donuts with no hole in the middle, powdered sugar sprinkled on top, and into which is squirted jelly. Between the beginning of Cheshvan and the end of Chanuka, about six billion (with a “b”, not an “m”) sufganiyot are made and eaten. It is the time of year, however, that people like to take their families to visit Eilat.
Eilat is a popular tourist/vacation city, with beaches, boats, and all that come with them. It is also sunny, and for Israelis, that is very important. Chanuka comes at the time of year when the rain has started, it is chilly, and the sun is not out so much. While that may be good for the country, and good for your health in many ways, Israelis don’t like it. They – we – like sun, heat, and warm weather. So, when most of the country is already being doused in rain (hopefully), many people use Chanuka vacation to go to Eilat. There they may enjoy a standard vacation – or they may stay in a hostel, just enjoying the warm weather and swimming on the beach, not spending too much money.
While most people outside Israel light their menora in their windowsill, Israelis often, if not always, light it outside the house. There are special boxes that people can buy to hang their menora outside their gate. (We don’t have one, because we have nowhere to store it). Many buy the box simply for the protection from the wind that it affords, and place it on a table. But, hardly anyone lights the candles in their home. In a way, I miss that. It gives a kind of holiday atmosphere to the house. On the other hand, when you walk outside, there is more of a holiday atmosphere than there would otherwise be (and more danger), because the whole street is lit up. The other downside? If you are using one of the menora boxes, that severely limits the kinds of menoras you can choose to light.
And of course, in the street, in the malls, on the radio, and everywhere else, there are songs, dances, get-togethers, and everything else you would expect holiday spirit to create – including comparisons between the situation then and the situation now.
Before I forget: I invite all readers who have a question or a topic that they would like me to discuss, to speak up. I will do my best to satisfy your curiosity; just leave a comment.