The Year In Israel
By Max Fruchter
Chanukah, as I’m sure will come as no surprise, is a major holiday celebration in Israel. One could see it coming weeks before its time thanks to the innumerable amount of neon menorahs along streets and highways, signs on buses wishing everyone a “Chanukah Sameach,” and “Chanukah specials” present in any makolet (supermarket), hardware store, or clothing shop.
Furthermore, each yeshiva celebrated Chanukah in many ways. The eight days of this chag were filled with dinners at rebbeim’s homes, latke-making competitions, volunteer trips to orphanages and hospitals, and dreidel challenges.
Something which did take me by surprise, and which I had never seen in America, was the overwhelming number of options for purchasing a menorah. In nearly every store, regardless of the merchandise for sale, chanukiyot were being sold. I distinctly recall entering a local pharmacy and wondering what place a “Menorah for 30 shekel!” sign had in a store where an adjacent poster read “All prescribed pharmaceuticals available for pick-up this week.” As menorahs were available in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, no one could say they were unable to find one to their liking. Yet this was the easy part; after deciding upon the basic characteristics of one’s menorah, one then had to choose between a wax, oil, or gel-based one. As if this weren’t specific enough, one then faced another choice—“Do I want to light indoors or outdoors?” If the latter was chosen, a further question awaited: which style of glass box (to be placed over the menorah if lit outside) would one decide to purchase? A box with many holes, in order to provide the flames with a sufficient amount of oxygen, or one with few holes, to ensure strong winds did not extinguish the flames?
Having lit candles in yeshiva, at friends’ houses, and in different shuls, I quickly became aware of the predominance of oil-based chanukiyot. While wax dominates the scene in America, the oil users are amongst the majority here in Israel. What is interesting, however, is the growing number of gel users. Except for maybe one case, I do not recall having seen any gel-based menorahs in America. This year, however, the enticing signs bearing pictures of different types of gels advertised the “fast, easy, and clean” way of lighting. Although I personally did not light with a gel-based menorah, I did have the chance to see several in action and can attest to its promise of providing a “no-mess lighting experience!” With more and more Jews using oil menorahs becoming aware of this easier and less tedious alternative to lighting, one can get a glimpse of the future majority of gel-based lights.
For myself, a simple wax-based menorah seemed more than suitable. As tempting as those glass boxes appeared, I chose to light indoors, maintaining the practice my family and I keep at home each year. Although studying in Israel has provided me the opportunity to try new things and observe rituals differently, I always seek to preserve family traditions whenever I can. For this reason, having a Thanksgiving meal was also important to me. Expressing gratitude for the freedom I have as an American is something I celebrate and appreciate each year. I remember asking myself, “Why should this year be any different? Why not observe an American holiday, when I have been privileged to have been brought up in a country surrounded by opportunity and potential?” The thankfulness inherent in a Thanksgiving meal is something I do my best to ponder each holiday.
To me, the synthesis of the secular and religious values embodied in Thanksgiving and Chanukah (or Thanksgivukkah), seemed to be the perfect combination of two vital ideals. For me and about ten friends, this integrated “Thanksgivukkah” took the form of singing and lighting of the menorah followed by a classic Thanksgiving feast. With a massive turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, salad, sweet potatoes, and latkes, this meal fit for a king provided me the ability to thank G‑d for being an American with American rights (symbolized in the festive meal and traditional football games) but, more importantly, for my Jewish heritage (inherent in the menorah lighting, singing, and latke eating). v
Max Fruchter, a recent graduate of DRS Yeshiva High School in the Five Towns, is now attending yeshiva in Jerusalem.