So Chanukkah in Israel has really been awesome. It's so nice to walk around and see Chanukkiyot (the things you light on Chanukkah) everywhere. There are special doughnuts (sufganiyot) all over the place made specially for the holiday. There are also lots of special activities going on. It definitely feels like the holiday season, but it is nice to not constantly have christmas shoved down your throat.
After shabbat ended on saturday night I went out around Jerusalem with a friend. She had been told how amazing it is to go around the old city in the Jewish quarter and see all the chanukkiyot lit up, so we did that. Let me tell you, it was so wonderful. In practically every window or outside of every doorway there was a Chanukkiyah burning. There were lots of people walking around to look at the different Chanukkiyot also, there were even tours happening with lots of little kids (mostly Israeli). Instead of driving around and looking at the pretty christmas lights in America we walked around and looked at the menorahs (it's just easier to type than chanukkiyah). It was really magical. It felt like we were really in the Jewish homeland, this is what is so special about this place that Jews can really celebrate the holidays together and light menorahs and not have to fear for their safety, or be the only one on their block with a menorah burning.
I'm getting all gushy, so lets take a picture break (these are all pictures I took walking around the old city):
We also walked around Mamila which is this new (like 2 or 3 year old) shopping center. It felt weirdly American there, I think because they had put up all these lights. Yes the lights were blue and white, but it still seemed kind of christmas-y or something. I overheard two people commenting on these lights (in Hebrew) both said something about how this is how it feels like outside of Israel/in America during this time of year. While there is nothing inherently christian about using the little "twinkle lights" it did feel a bit foreign here. Just something interesting to think about... To be fair they were very pretty. OOh look another picture:
It was prettier in real life, but you get the idea...
So after all this walking around we stopped in a bar for a drink. As we were leaving these very religious looking men walked into the bar. It was really odd to see a bunch of black-hatters coming into a very secular bar. It turned out they were coming in to encourage people to light chanukkah candles and they even brought a bunch of Menorahs with them. It was fascinating because even though we were at this secular bar (I don't think anyone was even wearing a kippah in the bar) they were very respectful of these men. One of the bar tenders, when asked, even lowered the music while one woman lit the candles. The people working at the bar didn't try and kick the men out or anything, there was this weird tolerance going on. It was definitely a very "only in Israel" moment.
I feel like in America if someone came into a bar and tried to get people to do something religious they would be kicked out in two seconds. Here they were accepted. Religion here is so weird. The role that it plays in society is just so different than anything I have experienced. It is partially (I think) this mixing of religion and culture and how parts of the Jewish religion have become part of the national culture and it is hard to separate the two. It fascinates me...
It was a lovely night.
So I have today and tomorrow off of school for Chanukkah. It's been nice. It makes me wish I had less class so I could have more chances to explore. Maybe just one day less a week? I think that isn't too ridiculous to ask :-)
So now I am going back in time, or more like just out of chronological order. I just wanted to add that I had a lovely shabbat. I chanted Torah again. I really like to chant (leyn is another word for it). It is just so cool to read out of the Torah like that, and I really want to get better. Right now it takes FOREVER to learn an aliyah (a section of the text), I want to get better so it won't take me as long and I can read longer aliyot. The meals were great too. I had some great lasagna for dinner and sesame noodles and latkes and lots of stuff for lunch. I even played some dreidle with lentles.
Life is good. I can't believe it is already day 5 of chanukkah, crazy! I need to go eat some more sufganiyot (esp the ones from roladin, they are kinda more expensive but sooo worth it, drool).
ps I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fire that is happening in northern Israel right now in the carmel area. It was only just put out, for the most part, today, after burning for 4 days. It devestated a large part of the north of Israel and took more than 40 lives. Part of the problem was that everything is so dry because it is supposed to be raining and it still hasn't rained. I don't think I've ever prayed for rain with such intention before. Here is a website if you would like to make a donation to help the relief efforts: