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Israel and Chanukah: Lamp Unto Its Fete
Chanukah in Israel is not the gifting-and-marketing fest it is in the United States, which is exactly why you just may find celebrating it in its original setting all the more authentic and meaningful.
Though in its purest form the eight-day holiday of Chanukah -- which arrives on Dec. 21 at sundown -- is more a historical commemoration than a spiritual observance like Passover or the High Holidays, experiencing it as the locals do can result in a family vacation that will be remembered fondly for years to come.
Israel's national carrier, EL AL, seems to believe in the notion that in travel, the journey can be as important as the destination. Perhaps for this reason, they've taken Chanukah to the skies by serving premium class passengers special holiday treats devised by executive chef Steven Weintraub of Borenstein Caterers, along with nightly candle lightings in the King David Lounges at JFK Airport in New York and Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.
In addition to the selection of snacks available in these lounges, the traditional treat, sufganiot (Israeli jelly donuts), will be served throughout the eight days of the holiday. (Weintraub notes that 73 cups of cinnamon and 6,900 ounces of raspberry jam will be used to prepare the sufganiot.) In-flight, first- and platinum-business class passengers departing Israel will also enjoy the holiday donuts.
Anybody not flying in premium class to Israel this holiday season can still partake in the fun by turning to: www.goisrael.com/Chanukah to participate in a contest offering a free trip to Israel; entries must be completed -- including the lighting of all virtual candles -- by Dec. 9, with notice of the selected winner being made on Dec. 13.
With each candle lit, visitors will be able to access information about travel to Israel for their Chanukah adventure.
The Ministry of Tourism, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and EL AL are all sponsors of the contest.
Chanukah in Israel, as previously noted, is less about consumerism and more about celebrating the resilience of Jewish tradition and culture with joy and creativity. As school is out during the week of Chanukah, Israeli families will be traveling around the country, which just may offer visiting American families the opportunity to rub shoulders with the locals and compare notes.
Given Israel's relatively mild winters, Chanukah time is also an ideal time to take the family hiking throughout Israel. The American Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel www. aspni.org offers customized private eco-tours, as well as information on hiking trails, nature-specific activities and winter attractions.
In Israel's North, Mount Hermon is a popular draw for families who embrace skiing while in the South, Red Sea resort towns like Eliat host large numbers of Israeli vacationers, Americans and Europeans who favor celebrating the holidays in a warm-weather setting.
Another key spot to visit is Mea Sharim in Jerusalem for its Chanukah menorah displays, set up by the neighborhood's fervently Orthodox residents.
A visit to Modi'in -- about midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv -- during Chanukah is a must. The site was the home of the Maccabees, whose hero and leader, Judah, is the iconic figure of the holiday
On your travels throughout the Jewish state, if you are visiting Haifa and feel somewhat adventurous, you might want to take some time for the Arab neighborhood of Wadi Nisnas, with its popular Hag Ha Hagim festival, which celebrates Chanukah, Christmas and the Muslim holiday of Eid Ul Adha through music, dance and food.
The party is staged every Saturday throughout December.
The hills of Israel outside Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are also alive with the sound of music, as well as other expressions of Jewish and Israeli culture. The Music on the Mountains festival (www.touryoav-wine.org.il:80; (click for English translation), honoring Chanukah and New Year's, is held at several hotels throughout the Judea Mountains and runs for a week.
The Jewish Cinema Festival ( www.jer-cin. org.il; (click for English translation) is hosted at the Jerusalem Cinematheque and runs through the entire month.
As Chanukah is often regarded as a children's holiday, it is not surprising that there are several children's shows that tour the country, including Festival, which could be described as the Israeli version of the Radio City Music Hall show, but with Jewish culture replacing many of the Christmas references.
The website Fun in Jerusalem www.funinjerusalem.com is also a helpful source for families planning their Israeli stay, with up-to-the-minute information on events ranging from Chanukah-themed scavenger hunts to seasonal food, as well as cultural and athletic activities developed with children and teens in mind.