Category Archives: Holy Days

Oh, It’s a Happy Chanukah In Israaaael….

Oh, it’s a happy Chanukah in Israaaael
Menorahs make your heart so light!
When the day is gray and ordinary
Sufganityot* make the sun shine bright!
Oh, happiness is blooming all around here
The daffodils are smiling at the dove
When Chanukah comes to the land, you feel so grand
Your heart starts beating like a Big Brass Band
Oh, it’s a  happy Chanukah in Israaaael
No wonder that it’s Chanukah that we love! **

Celebrating the Jewish holidays in Israel is a very different experience than observing them in the States because here the whole country is celebrating with you. I’m not sure how long the WOW factor lasts after aliyah (it’s almost 1 ¼ years for us) – I hope it never goes away – but  I’m still amazed and delighted that what used to be for me a communal event is a national celebration here and I’m part of it!

Billboard Magazine's Chanukah Cover

Even Billboard Magazine gets into the Chanukah spirit!

Chanukah even ranks top in the Jerusalem Post’s Billboard Magazine; full of movie, TV, and entertainment listings, Chanukah gets the front cover and the magazine features a variety of Chanukah events taking place around the country. And, it’s the only holiday which takes front and center at this time of year!

Listening to the radio on the holidays (or any other time) also has that WOW factor, since now I don’t have to tune to one specific station and/or for a few specific limited hours during the day to listen to Jewish thoughts, ideals, and values. What a pleasure to turn on the radio and hear discussions about issues affecting the country as a Jewish country,  divrei Torah (words of Torah) about the upcoming parsha (weekly Torah portion), and callers trying to answer questions posed by the host about Chanukah. When I tuned in  last night people were calling  in their answers to questions such as

“What’s the reason why Chanukah is celebrated for eight rather than seven nights?  Since the jug of oil found with the Kohen Gadol‘s (High Priest) seal had enough oil to burn for one night then the miracle was only about the extra seven nights.” (See bottom of post for answer.)

What a pleasure!

This past Sunday evening I met a wonderful woman at the Jerusalem Business Networking Forum, Sharon Altshul, who takes pictures of what’s really happening in Jerusalem and posts them on her website The Real Jerusalem Streets. Despite what the mainstream media chooses to headline, there’s always a different picture that they haven’t shown you (usually on purpose) and she proudly tells the world (her readership spans the globe) about the other,  real story that is happening here.  This is what’s happening in Jerusalem around Chanukah time:

10 Signs that Chanukah is Coming

It can be spelled differently in English every year,
but the Chanukah season in Jerusalem is very consistent.
There are 10 sure signs that Chanukah is on its way.

1. The piles of sufganiot in all bakeries

begin to disappear at an astonishing rate.

2. Street decorations are up

Click here for  8 more signs that Chanukah is coming to Jerusalem.

Answer to question above – When we pour  water from one container into the next, all the water is transferred; however, when we pour oil from one container to the next there is always some that remains behind. So, even though the oil in the jug was enough to burn for one night, when it was poured into the Menorah some oil remained in the jug. Therefore, there was not enough oil in the Menorah for even one night. The fact that the Menorah stayed lit that first night was a miracle as well!

 * Sufganiyot – donuts cooked in oil
** with thanks to

Oh, It’s a Happy Chanukah In Israaaael….





We watched with much amusement Thursday afternoon as a truck was unloaded in the lot adjacent to our building, primarily used by the Chassidic school next door. What fun the students were having removing the wood scraps and boards that was its cargo. Imagine, a whole truck dedicated to delivering wood scraps for Lag Ba’Omer bonfires!

Lag Ba'Omer pyre

Lag Ba'Omer Pyre Under Construction. Photo courtesy of my daughter, Tova Lipson

On Friday we watched intermittently as they  hauled the wood  to another spot and proceeded to build a pyre. This, it turned out,  was serious business. As the first level was built probably a yard or more in height (don’t know what that is in meters), the scrap wood was encircled by what looked like a row of old window frames with a layer of wood on top, neatly covering the contents inside; the second  level built on the foundation that was the first level, was smaller in diameter, but just as high and solid. On top of that, the third level was even smaller in diameter, encircled in wood like the other two and covered on top as well. I could not fathom putting a match to that. Wasn’t that just a little bit too big to set ablaze next to the trees? (In the States they would never allow this. )

Motzoei Shabbat (Saturday night after the Sabbath was over) was the start of Lag Ba’Omer. We watched as kids lit small fires in various parts of the lot and barbeques were burning. Several families brought tables and chairs into the lot as well and proceeded to picnic.

The pyre was finally lit and as the blaze grew I could feel its heat, five flights up. The flames danced and bent in the wind, thank G-d not in the direction of the nearby tree. And the music played; there was singing and clapping and dancing. I watched the fire as it diminished but I understand that it was not totally out till the wee hours of the morning.

Sunday, all that was left was a pile of ash. Even today, a week later, remnants of that Lag Ba’Omer pyre are still evident, as are remnants of the smaller ones. Although the pyre is physically gone, I can still envision it. And I think to myself “how different the fabric of life is here”. And it fills my heart with warmth.


When the Siren Sounds

As new olim we are still often wondering “What should we do when the siren sounds?” Not the kind from an emergency vehicle, but a long siren that can be heard throughout the whole neighborhood. In Israel the siren means one of two things – it’s either a warning to run for shelter from an incoming missile (which we were told has not yet happened, thank G-d, here in Rehovot) or notice of a minute of silence. The first time we heard a siren, several months ago, we were unsure what to do but since no one outside was running to a shelter, we figured it was okay to go about our business. Apparently we weren’t the only Anglos in the dark since queries on the local Yahoo email list had others questioning the purpose of the siren as well. Ultimately it was revealed to be a test and that information could usually be found in advance about siren testing on YNet News, as well as the radio for those who are more fluent in the language. The other morning I heard a long siren and again looked out my window to see what I should do. Since no one was fleeing, I didn’t either, and went to check the YNet site for enlightenment. Realizing that it was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I understood that the siren had been an indication for everyone to stop what they were doing and stand still till it stops.

Not every moment of silence comes with a siren. Several months ago I was walking in the neighborhood listening to the news in Hebrew on my cell phone’s FM radio and heard something about remembering Gilad Shalit, but I didn’t quite understand the whole story. I continued walking for another couple of minutes until I came to a spot where everyone was just standing around near a truck which was unloading. It was really curious since nothing seemed to be going on and I couldn’t imagine that so many people had actually stopped to watch someone unload a truck. So I stopped, stood there, and waited, expecting that I’d eventually find out what was happening. Fortunately, enlightenment wasn’t too long in coming as the woman next to me was soon explaining to an inquiring newcomer – five minutes of silence for Gilad Shalit. Having heard the news before, it all fell into place, and I felt privileged to be able to participate for the remaining time.

a moment of silence during memorial day for th...

A Moment of Silence During Memorial Day. Image via Wikipedia Commons

I was prepared for the siren at eight o’clock last night, this one in commemoration of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. Many commemoration activities were taking place at that time and they began with a minute of silence. Although I was not able to attend, Andy and Tova did. Rav Simcha Hakohen Kook, Rehovot’s Chief, Rabbi spoke and although they did not understand everything that was said in Hebrew, they were there and counted. Whereas Memorial Day in the States has become another reason for stores to hold sales, in Israel it’s taken quite seriously. In fact, as the blog  A Soldier’s Mother explains:

It is sadly a bit unique in the world in that it is truly a day of mourning. There are no barbecues, no sales, no discounts, no playing on the beach. It is somber, it is heartbreaking, it is agonizing. Cafes, restaurants, movie theaters, etc. are all closed – by law and by desire, there are no places of entertainment open.

In this fledgling state that’s still fighting for its survival, too many people have friends and loved ones who have fallen. Even though we’ve only been here for 8 months so far, there is a great feeling of unity when the siren sounds as we have intertwined our destiny with all those who are living here. The siren sounded promptly at 11 AM this morning. We stood still for the duration.

Tomorrow we will celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. One would think these two couldn’t be farther apart, but in fact we only have one because of the other.


Birkat Kohanim – The Priestly Blessing – at the Western Wall

During the times of the First and Second Temples on the Shalosh Regalim – three festivals of Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot – Jews from all over came to celebrate and worship at the Temple. It must have been a wonderfully festive and spiritually uplifting time. Now, again, many Jews come to Jerusalem for these holy days. Not quite the same without the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), but a privilege nonetheless. A special treat during one the intermediate days of Sukkot and Pesach is the Birkat Kohanim ceremony when Kohanim from all over Israel  (where we now live!!) come together at the Kotel (Western Wall) for a mass blessing.

We wanted to be there and as we are blessed to have friends with homes in the Old City, adjacent to the Kotel, we were able to arrive the night before so as to be there early for this wonderful occasion. We were also blessed with mild weather this Pesach; I was told that it is generally unbearably hot.  So many different types of people were there… from all walks of religious and not so religious life… Sephardim and Ashkenazim… young and old…  white-skinned, olive-skinned, black-skinned Ethiopian women who stood out with their traditional garb and distinctive method of prayer… Caryn and Andy… a veritable in-gathering of the exiles.

One estimate I saw suggested that there were about 200,000 people at the Kotel Plaza. I still can’t believe we were privileged to be among them. Can you see us in the video? Andy’s toward the front, on the left side, somewhere near the Kotel in the middle of the patch of white – amongst the Kohanim who have their talaisim (prayer shawls) over their heads, and  I am somewhere towards the front on the right hand side.

As is the custom, the chazan (cantor) first calls to the Kohanim who respond with a blessing thanking G-d for the opportunity to bless His nation, with love.  The chazan next sings each word of the three beautiful blessings included in Birkat Kohanim and the Kohanim repeat them after him; the assembled answer “Amen” at the conclusion of each of the blessings.



Pesach musings revisited

As we are getting ready for Pesach, I’m trying very hard to have the same enthusiasm for the preparations as we did readying the room for my son the first time he came from yeshiva to spend Shabbat with us … Continue reading