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Chanukah on the other side of the world

By 11 February, 2012July 27th, 2015Blog

About a year ago, I wrote an article in an online magazine considering
the differences between the way Chanukah is celebrated in the northern and
southern hemispheres. This past summer (northern winter), we were fortunate to
have spent Chanukah in Israel, and what an experience that was!
For the first few days of Chanukah, we were in Eilat. Coming
from the start of an Australian summer, that was itself a bit odd. During the
day, the weather was delightful – sunny with temperature in the mid 20s. But
as early as 3.30 in the afternoon, it started to cool down, and by 5pm it was
nearly dark and a bit chilly. This is actually a blessing in disguise – usually
it’s so difficult to get small children to bed in the summer, and here we had
the best of both worlds: summery weather, and early nights!
The hotel at which we stayed advertised a public lighting at
6pm. Well before this, the lobby of the hotel was set up with two long tables
covered with menorahs. We brought our own (with disposable solid oil), and put
them out early. That was a mistake! By the time we came down a bit later to
light (which was still before 6pm), one of our menorahs had disappeared, and
another was already lit by another family. We grabbed a marker and wrote our
names on our menorahs to ensure this wouldn’t happen again.
The hotel lighting ceremony was beautiful. Guests gathered
around as the hotel Rabbi lit a very large menorah near the main entrance to
the hotel, and everyone sung maoz tzur together to some musical
accompaniment. Huge baskets of hot mini-doughnuts were passed around – they
were just delicious. Families were lighting their individual menorahs and
singing; the festive atmosphere was all around.
After a few nights of this, our stay in Eilat was over, and
we drove back to Jerusalem. As we reached the outskirts of the city, the
highway was lined with neon menorahs on the power poles. What a spectacular
sight! It certainly made a pleasant change from driving down St Kilda Road or
Lygon St at this time of year.
After benching licht in our apartment, we went out
into the streets in search of food (as one does). On a dark, winter night, the
streets were lit up by menorahs in glass boxes outside apartment blocks or seen
through street-facing windows in a most beautiful display of pirsumei nisah
(publicizing the miracle of Chanukah).
The restaurants all had lit menorahs, and we were greeted
with a warm chag sameach by the staff. Even the taxi drivers wished us a
chag sameach! Chanukah was everywhere, and it contributed to a fantastic
atmosphere wherever we went. There were large Chabad menorahs in prominent
places around the city – in squares, atop buildings, and even in front of the
Prime Minister’s residence!
The bakeries all carried a vast assortment of fantastic
doughnuts. The range of fillings and decorations were as endless as the queues
out the doors. Doughnuts are best when they are fresh and warm, and I was
fortunately able to prove this through extensive practical experiment.
Fortunately, I was also able to offset the effect of this by walking around
town as much as possible!
Walking home through the Jewish Quarter in the Old City
after Shabbos, we saw families gathered outside their apartment buildings
lighting their menorahs and singing maoz tzur together. The Mamillah mall was
completely lit up (like the proverbial Chanukah menorah), and only once, on
that motzei Shabbos (24th of December) did we see a group of
carollers outside the Mamillah hotel to give us some indication that the world was
celebrating some other holiday at the same time.
There were no barbeques to be had, and no late and sultry
summer nights keeping the kids up for candlelighting. I missed the former (just
a little), but didn’t miss the latter. Chanukah with small children is
definitely easier during winter. It certainly made a contrast with Chanukah
down under, and I look forward to experiencing it again when the opportunity
next comes up.
This article originally appeared in Melbourne Community Links magazine. 
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