Hanukkah in Israel

A Hanukkiah

The time of the holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is a very unique time to visit Israel. As a time of great celebrations, with many unique traditions to see and experience, witnessing Hanukkah in Israel is a great experience for anybody. Here, you will find our full guide for Hanukkah in Israel, with all you need to know about the best ways to experience the unique Jewish holiday.

The Meanings of the Holiday of Hanukkah

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a holiday celebrated for eight days, and the only Jewish holiday which celebrates events that were not mentioned in the bible. The days of Hannukah are traditionally days of gratitude, commemorating the victory of the Hasmoneans in the Maccabean Rebellion against the Greeks, the rededication of the First Temple, and the miracle of the cruse of oil. In addition, Hanukkah celebrates the middle of winter, and of the olive harvest in Israel.

The holiday is marked by the saying of praise and gratitude as well as the lighting of Hanukkah candles in a traditional Hanukkiah, which consists of 8 candles and one candle known as Shamash, which is used to light the other candles. Here are the two main events and miracles that are celebrated in Hannukah.

The Hasmonean Revolt

In 167 BC, the Hasmoneans began to lead the uprising against the Seleucid rule in the Land of Israel, in a series of events known as the “Maccabean Revolt”. The revolt started due to the decrees of the ruler Antiochus, which included the prohibition of leading a Jewish life and following Jewish traditions.

In 164 BC, the rebels succeeded in liberating Jerusalem and the Temple From the rule of the Greeks, who shut down the Temple for about three years. Even though the rebellion did not end there, and the struggle for independence in the Land of Israel continued for twenty more years, the date of the holiday of Hanukkah was set during the peak days of the struggle – the days of the liberation of the Temple and Jerusalem, the inauguration of the altar and the lighting of the menorah.

Miracle of the cruse of oil

When the Hasmoneans liberated the temple and cleansed it, they found only one vessel of oil that was not defiled and was fine to use. However, the oil they found had a sufficient amount only for one day, and it took eight days to produce new pure oil. By a miracle, the oil was enough for eight days, and in memory of the miracle they established an eight-day holiday.

Thus, in Judaism, the miracle of the cruse of oil symbolizes the power of the spirit to overcome the limitations of matter, and the power of purity and justice to overcome impurity and evil.

The main Hanukkah holiday traditions

A traditional Hanukkah Sevivon

Candle Lighting

During Hanukkah, it is customary to light candles for eight straight days, starting with one candle on the first day, two candles on the second day, and so on until the entire Hanukkiah is lit with 8 candles. The lighting of the candles is accompanied by a blessing and traditional Hanukkah songs. Usually, the candle lighting ceremony is done with many friends and family members every evening, and followed by a joint dinner.

playing with dreidels (Sevivon)

During the Hanukkah holiday, children usually play with dreidels, known in Hebrew as Sevivonim, as part of a tradition that began in Germany in the 16th century. The initials of the words “a great miracle was here” are written on the traditional Hanukkah sevivons, to celebrate the events and miracles of the holiday.

When is Hanukkah in Israel?

As the time of Hanukkah is determined by the Jewish calendar, it always takes place on different dates, but it is always celebrated in winter, and usually around mid-December.

Visiting Israel during Hanukkah

As a holiday with more of a historical meaning than a religious one, there isn’t any major travel restriction at the time of Hanukkah in Israel. There aren’t any days when transportation or stores shut down, and there isn’t any official public holiday, although schools do not operate during those 8 days, and many families travel throughout the country.

Instead, at this time of year, the whole country is in a holiday mode, as friends and families gather around every day to light candles, eat and sing together.

How to experience Hannuka in Israel

Sufganiyot in a market
Traditional Sufganiyot

Attend a Hanukkiah lighting ceremony

As we said, during Hanukkah, lighting ceremonies are being held every evening for 8 straight days. The ceremonies are traditionally held in family homes across the country, as locals usually plan to hold them with different family members and loved ones every day.

If you want to experience the unique ceremony by yourself, but you don’t have any connections with locals in Israel, you can join one of the multiple public ceremonies, which are being held in numerous parks and central areas of the big cities of Israel, like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and many others.

Eat Sufganiyot and Levivot

Visiting Israel during Hanukkah is a great opportunity to try the delicious traditional holiday dishes: Sufganiyot and Levivot. As Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the cruse of oil, both are deep-fried dishes, which makes them extremely delicious, but also very filling and heavy, and ones that Israelis tend to only eat during the time of Hanukkah.

Levivot, the less popular dish of the two, is also known as Latkes. They are essentially deep-fried potato pancakes, usually made of a mix of potatoes and sweet potatoes. The Levivot are more of a homemade dish, but you can also find them in some restaurants during Hanukkah.

On the other hand, the Sufganiyot are much easier to find in Israel around the time of Hanukkah. Sufganiyot are essentially Jewish doughnuts: fried round pastries, traditionally filled with jam. In the past few decades, the Sufganiyot have seen a major makeover, as every bakery in Israel makes a variety of modern versions of Sufganiyot, with fillings such as chocolate, vanilla, pistachio cream, and many others.

If you visit Israel during Hanukkah, you are guaranteed to see Sufganiyot almost anywhere you go, as they are sold in every supermarket and bakery in the country, and sometimes even just shared on the street for free.


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