A little light in the darkness

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice – the day with the fewest hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere. It’s also the first night of Chanukah. In the spirit of adding a little light in the darkest time of the year, here’s some good news!

(As I typed that I realized that I was being hemisphere-ist. In the southern hemisphere, tomorrow is the day with the most daylight hours. Sorry, Southerners!)

We’ve got Christmas in Jerusalem!




 “Jerusalem Santa” (Photo by Muammar Awad/Xinhua) SOURCE

This lovely guy brings Christmas cheer to the Old City by dressing up as Santa Claus and handing out Christmas trees provided for free by the municipality of Jerusalem.


The Christmas tree in St. James Convent in Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter
(Photo: Vince PhotographySOURCE

You can always count on a Christmas tree outside the YMCA, but this year, the Armenian Quarter in the Old City is dressing up for Christmas.

James Corden’s Chanukah song

Need I say more?

LadBaby wins Christmas #1 AGAIN

This is an utterly silly song, but the story is absolutely heartwarming and sweet. LadBaby is a social media family who make hilarious videos, have fun, make each other laugh with a lot of British-style teasing, and have lots of followers like me around the world.

Last Christmas, LadBaby did a novelty song – “We Built This City (on Sausage Rolls)” – won Christmas #1 in the UK, and donated all the profits to The Trussell Trust. They were able to provide 70,000 emergency food packages for people in need in the UK.

So this year, they decided to try again. And they won Christmas #1 AGAIN! All profits will go to The Tressell Trust to provide food for those in need. Well done, LadBaby! (*Bonus Fun Fact: The only other groups to have back to back Christmas #1s are The Beatles and the Spice Girls!)

So whether you are celebrating Chanukah, Solstice,
Christmas, Kwanza, the New Year, or all of the above

May it be joyful and full of light!




Chanukah: A light in the darkness

Man, if I was a Grinch last week, you don’t even want to know about this week. So annoyed! My ceiling is leaking and I’m camping in the living room. But there was one thing that made me feel better …

This is AMAZING!! I love a cappella to begin with and then bring in Queen, well, Chanukah doesn’t get better than that!

Cultural notes

As an American and Israeli, I noticed that this was a great cultural mix.

  1. Note the hard ch (Antiochus, Chanukah, Chai) but Mattathius.
  2. Israeli Chanukah treats (sufganiot – filled donuts) and American Chanukah food (latkes – potato pancakes). If Israelis make latkes in Israel they are called levivot (hearts – I don’t know why) and are never served with applesauce (I know, right?). And sour cream? Fuggedaboutit. Maybe gvina levana.
  3. Sevivon as well as dreidle and gelt (Israelis don’t actually know the rules to the dreidle game; they just know there’s a top and it spins).
  4. Sevivon, sov, sov, sov, as well as a clay dreidle (you gotta know your Chanukah songs for this one).
  5. Chanukiahs, but not a menorah to be found.
  6. Aba, Ema, but Bubbe (surprisingly not many grandmas are called bubbe here).
  7. Ah, but where was the miracle? Nes gadol haya po. It was here, not there (sham). We’re in Israel! (Even if Six13 are New York-based.)

So after singing this at the top of my lungs (many times), which hopefully bothers the neighbors whose fault it is that my ceiling is leaking, I’ve decided: Dammit all, I’m going to be a freaking light in the darkness.

Happy Chanukah Everybody!

December in Jerusalem

I took a walk this week and took in the sights of Jerusalem in December. It happened that it was 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 C) and while that was a little warm for Jerusalem in December, it’s a nice feeling to get out into the sunshine on a pleasant day.

I’ve been passing this new statue on the street.  Part of me wishes it really was a talented street musician.  Maybe they can pipe some music in…


There is an interesting photo exhibit on the walls of the Old City.  It seems to be reflective of the faces you see in the city.

And in the cool evenings, we are celebrating Chanukah by lighting candles, eating donuts and illuminating our best selves. We choose not to curse the darkness in the darkest days of the year (not to mention these “days of rage” lately, but that’s another story).

‘Tis the Season to Deck the Halls – or Not

This year Christmas and Chanukah are at the same time!

Christmas in Israel is not really a thing.

Is everything wrapped in green, red, silver. and gold?  Nope.

Are the streets festooned with lights of every color? Nope.


Ben Yehuda/ Zion Square.  No festooned lights, but a giant Chabad menorah

Is there a Santa booth so that parents can take pictures of their usually crying and nervous children asking for things for Christmas? Nope.

Christmas carols while shopping?  I was out today and didn’t hear a single one, so Nope.  Youtube is a good source of American Jews adding their voices to Chanukah culture.  This year’s Maccabeats offering is an homage to Hamilton.

Maccabeats – Hasmonean: A Hamilton Chanukah

(*Note to email readers: This post has a lot of pictures and video links that don’t seem to show up in the email. So come to the site to see the videos.)

Christmas cookies, Christmas fudge, gingerbread, fruit cake?  Nope, nope, nope, and thankfully nope.  We have donuts.


These are the fancy ones.  There are also yucky, I mean, plain, old-fashioned, jam-filled ones. Source

Christmas trees?  N . . .  well, I did find one at the, ahem, cough, YMCA, of course.

Are the television channels playing every snow-themed, Christmas-y movie or show ever made?  Nope.

Frosty? Nope.

Rudolph? Nope.

A Christmas Carol – any of the many versions? Nope.

It’s a Wonderful Life? Well, I like that one so I try to watch it.  I have the DVD.

The Grinch? Nope.

Well, what do you have?  Apparently, Israel decided to take on Black Friday, Even though Israel doesn’t have Thanksgiving or Christmas, advertisers decided to cash in on the shopping frenzy of December.

Advertisement that I got in my email – Black Friday is spelled in Hebrew בלאק פריידי, and pronounced “black friday.” They didn’t translate it, they transliterated it.

At first I laughed because there is simply no connection to the Friday after the fourth Thursday of November in a country that doesn’t have a Christmas shopping season.  But then I was sad.  Of all the Christmas traditions to borrow, why that one?  When did Christmas become about greed?

Dr. Seuss, one of the great philosophers of our time, reminds us with How the Grinch Stole Christmas that Christmas cannot be bought in a store.  It’s not about the STUFF.  It’s about things that money doesn’t buy like:

Being with Loved Ones

Generosity of Spirit



Israel, in spite of the Black Friday blight, is a lot like Who-ville.  The Grinch doesn’t need to come and take all the stuff that we don’t have – the ribbons, bows, presents, trees, roast beast, etc.  What he can’t take away is lighting the candles together with friends and family. Singing songs of freedom.  Telling and retelling the stories of our forefathers standing up for their beliefs (ok, also the miracle of the oil).  I might even go so far as to say that Israel might have a little bit more Christmas spirit than other places that have replaced Christmas with greed.

Let your heart grow three sizes today and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah, and Joyous Solstice!

The Grinch’s heart grows three sizes.

I’m a big fan of the Maccabeats, so here’s a list of their Chanukah songs in no particular order.  Start a new a Capella Chanukah tradition!

Maccabeats Shine (original song)

Maccabeats Candlelight

Maccabeats Miracle

Maccabeats  Burn

StandFour (Maccabeats) 8 Nights

Maccabeats All About the Neis

Chanukah Special

A few fun facts about Chanukah

How do you spell it?  Chanukah, Hannukah, Hanuka, … Spell it however you want.  You just need to get the sounds right.


Jewish xmas



Is Chanukah the Jewish Christmas?  No.  It’s a holiday that happens to fall around the same time of year.  But also yes.  It was never a very big deal in terms of holiday rankings, but in recent decades it became a much bigger holiday due to the overabundance of Christmas celebrations.  Jewish kids needed something fun in December as well.



What is the miracle celebrated by Chanukah?  In 168 BCE the Selucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, forbade the Jews to practice their religion and desecrated the Temple.  After Judah the Maccabee succeeded in ousting the Selucids, the first order of business was to rededicate the Temple.  (Chanukah means dedication.)  They found only enough blessed oil to last one day.  But they lit it anyway and sent for more blessed oil, knowing that it would take 8 days.  And miraculously, the oil that should have lasted only one day lasted for 8 days.

What’s a dreidel? What’s a sevivon?  They are the same thing:  a four-sided top that has 4 Hebrew letters on it.  Dreidel is Yiddish.  Sevivon is Hebrew.  The four letters ardreidele different depending on where you are in the world.  Outside of Israel, the letters are נ, ג, ה ,ש  which stand for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” (A Great Miracle Happened There).  Inside of Israel the letters are נ, ג, ה, פ, which stand for “Nes Gadol Hayah Po” (A Great Miracle Happened Here).

The story is that children would learn the story of Chanukah with the dreidel, but those who forbade the Jews to practice their religion would see only a children’s game.

What are the rules?  All the players ante up by putting 2 whatevers in the pot (usually candies).  The first person spins the top and wherever it falls that’s the instruction for that players turn.  נ – nothing happens.  ג – you win the whole pot. ה – you win half the pot. ש/פ – put in two.

Here’s a true Chanukah story.  I went to a Chanukah party in Israel and they wanted to play dreidel.  Out of about 20 Israelis in the room and 5-6 English-speakers, I was the only one who knew the rules.  That’s right.  A secular girl who grew up in small-town America was the only person who knew all the rules.

I attribute this to family Chanukah gatherings at my aunt and uncle’s house.  I remember at least one Chanukah when all of us kids went upstairs and set up our game in the hidden corridor between the bedrooms and we secretly played dreidel.  Moral of the story:  Everyone should have secret places and everyone should know the rules of dreidel.

Foods.  In honor of the miracle of the oil, it’s all fried, baby!  Order French fries or onion rings for Chanukah!  Deep-fried mozzarella sticks?  It’s okay; it’s for Chanukah!  Fried chicken?  Absolutely! Deep-fried snickers bar?  Now it’s just getting weird.

The real traditional foods are potato pancakes (latkes [Yiddish] or levivot [Hebrew]) and fried donuts with fillings (sufganiot).  Here in Israel, most people eat sufganiot and these days they are what you might call “fancy-schmancy.”  The basic one is filled with strawberry jam (meh.  I prefer the dulce de leche version of the basic and most of the fancy-schmancy ones.)


For those of you who know about potato pancakes, you may know that one traditional way to eat them is with sour cream and applesauce.  Not so in Israel.  Whenever I have mentioned eating them this way, I get looks like I’m the crazy one.

When I was waiting at the bank this week, donuts were handed around.  It made the nearly endless wait a bit more bearable, even if it was a strawberry jam one.

What’s the real miracle of Chanukah today?  The story of Chanukah reminds us to fight for our beliefs and our way of life.  We can be proud of who we are, of our history, of our heritage, without imposing it on anyone else.

Chabad puts up a lot of public hanukiahs and lights them each night all around the world.  In Paris this week, they were discouraged from doing so.  But that isn’t the spirit of Chanukah.  They lit the hanukiah to remind us that it is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness and from that candle many more can be lit.  Together we can banish the darkness.