Hanukkah: A Holiday Posing as a Festival

Article by: unknown author

Sat December 08, 2012 | 00:00 AM

Israel-RabbisLighting a candle for the land of miracles

As seen on AFAR

As I have become a world wanderer wondering about the best festivals on the planet, some guidebooks and a few friends pointed me to Hanukkah in Israel. I took the bait, as this holiday has long been called the “Festival of Lights.” Plus, landing right in-between a scheduled speech in Cairo and a Sufi Whirling Dervish festival in Turkey, the timing was perfect and allowed me to spend the first half of Hanukkah in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Yet, after experiencing Hanukkah amidst the throngs of Israelis on vacation during this holy week, I’m enamored with the holiday but unimpressed by the festival. Tel Aviv is a modern, secular city so it was hard to even find much in the way of Hanukkah celebrations. Jerusalem was a different story with menorahs in so many windows and families migrating to the holy sites in the Jerusalem area that help define this tradition.

Yet, even in the Old City – the place where I most expected to see more festive spectacle associated with this eight-day period – the crowds were more focused on shopping than they were on the lighting of the third candle at the Western Wall. This was to my benefit as I was able to stand in the front row as these two rabbis and a statesman lit the candle amidst proclamations of Israel being the land of miracles.

As I’ve preached for years, “Disappointment is the natural result of badly managed expectations.” In the end, I can recommend Israel, and especially Jerusalem, as a place to experience one of the most reverential times of the year of the Jewish faith, especially if you have Israeli friends with whom you can share a Hanukkah dinner and candle-lighting. But, if you’re looking for a pilgrimage, party, or pageant full of revelry or beauty, find another festival.