Chanukah in Tzfat

With the long, hopefully rainy winter still usually in the stage of anticipation at Chanukah-time, Israelis welcome Chanukah as a sort of last fling before hunkering down in their houses next to the heaters for the coming winter months.

Chanukah comes out on the Jewish calendar in December.  It's a week-long holiday of school vacation. There are, however, no major religious preparations, restrictions or laws, aside from the tradition of lighting the Hannukia, or Menorah (8-branched candelabra) every evening. So it's a holiday that is enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere by all.

Background of Chanukah

Chanukah may be known in some circles as "the Jewish Christmas" because it falls in December, seen by some as a convenient  Jewish alternative to Xmas. It's anything but that. Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Jews of the second century B.C.E. over the Hellenists who sought to bury Judaism in favor of pan-Greek ideology. Consecrated oil found in the trampled Temple of Jerusalem was enough to burn for one day, but instead, miraculously burned for eight days - hence Chanukah is celebrated for eight days.

In some parts of Israel, the Christmas tradition of giving gifts has become popular, but not so in Tzfat, where Chanukah is still fairly simple - some families buy small presents for their children, but it's not prevalent and certainly not as gift-oriented a holiday as in other parts of Israel. In Tzfat, even those gifts which are bought tend to be board and card games which the children can play (during the week-long school vacation) with family and friends.

Most businesses close early during Chanukah to enable the employees to return home in time for candle-lighting which, ideally, is done at nightfall. Some businesses, however, are unable to close early. It's not unusual to be shopping in a Tzfat supermarket on Chanukah and hear, over the loudspeaker, "we will now be lighting the Chanukah lights at the front of the store. All shoppers are invited to join." At that point, most shoppers leave their carts, and more interestingly, workers leave their counters and cashiers leave their stations as everyone gathers in the front of the store to say the blessings and light the candles.

Festival of Lights in Tzfat

One of the laws that is associated with Chanukah is the injunction to "publicize the miracle" by placing the Chanukah lights in a public place. In most countries, Jewish families put their menorahs by their windows so that they can be seen from outside. But in Israel, and especially in Tzfat, many people own glass coverings which are fitted on a box over their menorah. These boxes, with the lit menorah inside, are hung on hooks next to the doorways and the gates of the homes, on the outside (street-side) of the house. Although many of these menorahs are quite expensive, no one has ever heard of one being stolen, and it's a beautiful sight to walk down the streets of Tzfat and see the lights of the menorahs burning in the windows and doorways of the homes. Many families have the tradition of giving a separate menorah to each child, and some homes are full and bright with Chanukah lights, lighting up the entire town.