It’s the festival of lights, and there’s no better place to celebrate than in the country where it all began. The Maccabees gave us a legend of strength to carry on and a miracle to celebrate, and in Israel people take that seriously. With music festivals, guided tours, award-winning wines and gourmet sufganiyot, there are no shortage of ways to celebrate in Israel.
Although the miracle of Chanukah is much deeper than the food, the famous Jewish joke is, “They tried to kill us, we survived – let’s eat”. Since holidays are a unique time for family bonding, there’s no better way to connect then over delicious food. In Israel the food bonding starts early with bakeries rolling out their sufganiyah collection well-before Chanukah to get people in the holiday spirit. Going all out, bakeries aren’t just satisfied with the standard jelly doughnut and chefs are upping the ante and recreating Chanukah classics.
Roladin Bakery, one of Israel’s largest bakeries, has been innovating baked goods for 27 years. Constantly trying new flavors, this year’s sufganiyah surprises include banana coffee toffee, mascarpone berry, halva pistachio, French style saint honor, pavlov cream cheese and praline. With 55 branches around Israel, it won’t be hard to get your hands on one (or five) of their delicious doughnuts.
Even though there are healthier ways to prepare Chanukah treats, most people do opt to indulge in the fried treats once a year. To create a more gourmet experience, wine expert at Golan Heights Winery, suggests pairing light sparkling wine with the fried dishes. “White sparkling wine with high acidity can help balance the greasy feel of the sufganiyot and latkes.” Chanukah is a perfect time to sample festive Israeli wines.
Especially if you’re hosting, start the evening with a special sparkling wine, like Yarden Blanc de Blancs to get everyone in a festive mood. During dinner, Galil Alon or Hermon Indigo are wonderful, choices for red wine lovers and for dessert, Yarden Muscat will ensure that your guests leave with a smile on their faces.
To work off some of the calories that are starting to pile on with all the delicious foods, join the annual torch relay from Modiin to the Western Wall. Every year on Chanukah runners line the road between Modiin, the birthplace of the Maccabees, and the old city of Jerusalem, to deliver the lit torch to the Chief Rabbi who lights the menorah.
Recreating the experience of life during the time of the Maccabees, Hasmonian Village offers guided tours of battle sites and other historical places, including a live play re-enacting the story of Chanukah.
For more hands-on fun visit Ein Yael Museum. Ancient terraces and fountains, agricultural installations, reconstructed Roman streets with shops and craft workshops, archaeological remains and a Roman villa, all make history come alive.
For other kid friendly celebrations, check out The Festigal and Motek Shel Festival. Motek ShelFestival is geared towards kids ages 2-5 and both festivals feature renowned entertainers.
With all the fun activities, nothing is as magical as wandering around the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Geulah, Nachlaot or the Jewish quarter of the old city where you can soak in the twinkling menorah lights in every window, and of course pick up more sufganiyot on the way.
This Chanukah, grab your favorite treat and warm coat and enjoy the festivities while walking in the footsteps of the brave Maccabees.