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Chanukah Customs from Around the World

Renee Eder on Monday, December 12, 2016

In less than 2 weeks, we will begin Chanukah, a fun holiday when Jewish people from all over the world commemorate the rededication of Jerusalem’s Holy Temple, which was reclaimed by Jews from the Syrian Greek empire in the second century BC. My family loves Chanukah for the pretty blue decorations, lighting of the candles, dreidel (spinning top) and Chanukah gelt (chocolate money), and of course for the eight nights of presents.

Once a relatively minor celebration on the Jewish calendar, Chanukah became more widely honored in recent times, with menorahs lit in Jewish homes and lighting ceremonies in many cities and towns. Similar to other holidays, the ways in which Chanukah is observed varies, with different cultures putting their own unique spin on things. Here’s a look at some of the ways Jews around the globe celebrate Chanukah:

Eastern Europe
Jews in Eastern European countries celebrate the holiday by eating latkes (oil-fried potato pancakes), which took advantage of the availability of potatoes in this part of the world. Jewish immigrants then brought the custom to North America.

Indians of Jewish heritage light their menorahs with wicks that are dipped in coconut oil rather than candles, a different way to honor the miracle of the oil, says Simon J. Bronner, Ph.D., distinguished professor of American studies and folklore at Penn State University. Also in India, some Jews replace latkes with a food called burfi, a confectionary made with condensed milk and sugar, says Bronner.

“Among Yemenite Jews, the seventh night of Chanukah is set aside as a women's holiday,” says Bronner. "The night commemorates Hannah, sometimes spelled Channah, whose story is told in the Book of Maccabees. According to the text, Hannah and her seven sons defied the Syrian Greeks who ruled Jerusalem at the time, and she and her sons were killed for refusing to give up their beliefs."

In Israel, Jews feast on sufganiyot (round jelly donuts). Similar to latkes, sufganiyot are fried in oil. The oil symbolizes the small amount of oil the ancient Jews had with them to light their temple, which lasted eight days. This sweet tradition increasingly makes it to dinner tables in America and other parts of the Jewish Diaspora. 

In Istanbul, Jews sing a song commemorating the eight menorah candles called “Ocho Candelas,” and eat oil-fried fritters known as “burmelos.”

Jews in Morocco also celebrate by enjoying fried jelly donuts. Their version, called Sfenj, is made with the juice and zest of an orange.

Italian Jews share recipes for a lightly sweetened, olive oil infused, honey-covered treat called precipizi, which originated in Turin.

However your family celebrates, we at the J wish you a Happy Chanukah! We hope you will join us at JFest on December 25 for a movie and chinese food and at the Menorah Lighting at Mosaic on December 29

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