Chanukah Fun

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By Shmuel Katz

Chanukah in Israel is always special, at least to us olim who did not grow up here. As with most of the chagim, the entire country moves into holiday mode and the spirit of the holiday envelops you.

Sufganiyot go on sale almost immediately following Sukkot, and the variety of outstanding flavors, textures, fillings, and toppings is delightful. Every mall, shopping center, and grocery store is filled with Chanukah-related items, each store trying to beat the other in price. I bought four boxes of the standard Chanukah candles for my kids for 50 cents—for all four. By the time Chanukah arrives, the kids’ anticipation for vacation time and outings as well as the usual treats is at a high level.

This year, we were essentially a family of four. With Chaya in school, Aliza on a four-day tiyul with her friends, and Batya visiting my parents in Florida (belated bat mitzvah present), we had only the two younger boys with us at home. While this made for an “empty house,” we enjoyed the ability to plan age-appropriate activities without hearing complaints from older or younger siblings about how bored they were.

We try to do things as a family when we have vacation. Since we, as parents, did not grow up in Israel, it is often a bit challenging to know what/where/when are the best events to attend. I think we did pretty well this year.

We visited the science museum. It was not as crowded as we expected, and it was a lot of fun. We took the kids to a kid movie and then had a family party in Chashmonaim at my brother Ely’s home. We had a Bet Shemesh day—with a multi-family breakfast (eggs to order, cereal, french toast, pancakes, breads, etc.) in the morning, followed by a hachnassat sefer Torah for a Torah presented by Rabbi Rosner’s parents. It was a nice week, with a couple of bonuses.

Groupon has come to Israel. Goldie scored us a great deal for a zoo in Rishon Letzion (think Queens Zoo); $6 tickets. We went with our friends Donny and Tzippy Lieberman and their family (including Donny’s mom, who was in for a Chanukah visit). With that price, we expected the place to be packed and for it to be smallish—no more than three hours of touring total. We were pleasantly surprised. Although there was a crowd, it was not large at all. Everyone had a chance to see each enclosure and enjoy the animals. But the real value was not in the animals; the real value was in the show and play area.

Adjacent to the zoo was an amphitheater, and the zoo put on a one-man show on each day of the week of Chanukah. The performer blew bubbles using a variety of implements and making bubbles of vastly different sizes. He was entertaining and had the kids all enthralled for 45 minutes.

Around the corner was a multilevel play zone featuring a ball pit, climbing walls, mazes, and all the fixings. While their parents sat on the side enjoying the cool breeze, the kids kept themselves occupied for over an hour. We were at the zoo for almost six hours and it made for a full day—but we did more.

It turns out that the zoo is five minutes from IKEA and their kosher lemehadrin restaurant. So we all trooped to IKEA for dinner and between the playroom for kids and the special Chanukah show IKEA put on, another two hours had gone by. Which made for a much fuller day than we had anticipated.

The other treat was Chamshushalayim. For the first time, the kids had a full week off FROM school, instead of 3 OR 4 days, to partially replace the extra week of classes held in August when they permanently moved the opening of the school year up a week. They had no school on Friday, so we took them to Yerushalayim to enjoy some of the offerings.

Our first Chamshushalayim stop that evening was a puppet show that had advertised as appropriate through age 11. Maybe not. We realized there might be a problem when we looked around the theater and noticed that every other family there came with preschoolers. The show was entertaining, but clearly did not engage our boys.

The second tour was much more engaging. Goldie and I had visited the Underground Prisoners Museum in the Russian Compound area near the city center. The (former) prison served as a British jail for arrested and convicted members of the Israeli resistance forces. Having done the tour last year, we knew that a nighttime tour, in the cold, would be especially meaningful for the boys. Part of the tour was a presentation, in costume, of museum guides posing as guards and prisoners. Although there was a bit of confusion regarding touring hours that led to our having to leave early, the boys really enjoyed it. The whole Chamshushalayim thing is awesome and a great annual culture treat.

On the last day of Chanukah (and I write this at 30,000 feet), I again made my way to the airport for some more recruiting. With multiple stops in Toronto, Detroit, Washington DC, Baltimore, and New Jersey, I should be grateful to get home at the end of next week. I should have some time available the week of the 25th, and if you have a twelfth-grader and want to learn more about the yeshiva (Migdal HaTorah), please feel free to drop me an e-mail—I will get back to you.

• • •

In other “housekeeping” notes: I wrote that even after the party lists come out, I would bet that there will still be sweeping changes to the face of the elections. The lists came out last week and the big news over the weekend is the resignation of Yisrael Beitenu head and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman from the Knesset after being charged with breach of trust.

I am no political pundit. All I can say is that he was and is very popular with his voters, and I wonder if this will cause the Likud/Beiteinu merged party to lose even more votes to the right bloc. It should definitely be interesting to watch.

And finally, it is that time of year again for a water update. You have joined us in saying v’tein tal umatar livrachah and the critical need for rain is again at the fore. Although the rains begin to fall any time after Sukkot, the serious rains do not begin to fall until mid-December and sometimes even January.

This year is no different. On Sunday morning, the lake was –12.28 (below sea level), 15 centimeters above the low for the year. We have had rains, but the rainwater from those storms saturate the parched earth and it is only the second or third wave of storms that leads to increases in the Kineret water level.

The great news is that despite our recently being at the low point of the year, the last time that the water level was this high in December was in 2007, at the beginning of the drought. The bountiful blessing of rain that G‑d provided us last year was tremendous. Our use of desalinated water for crops and irrigation (reducing demand from the water system) as well as continued conservation efforts have led to dramatically less water being taken out of the system year round—but especially the summer.

With the prayer for another year of berachah in healthy and nurturing rains for our holy land, I hope to witness the full replenishment of the Kineret and the return of having overflow water fill the Jordan. Plan to responsibly preserve the Dead Sea and its ecology. We have much work to do to maintain the land G‑d has given us. With His help, we will continue to do so. v

Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (, a gap-year yeshiva opening in 2013. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at

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