On the home front, it was a a chaotically mellow snow day. I (Debbie) was a bit surprised to wake up and find our back patio decorated in snow since I had been quite skeptical of all the hoopla running up to it. Quickly I shared the news with the kids and we were all a twitter with excitement as if we had never seen snow before.
Shalom’s school had already been canceled the day before. But what about Yitzi? There is no automated number to call for snow day info at his school. And I am certainly not high on the list to receive phone calls. So, since we live one minute from school I bundled him up, packed his snack, and sent him off into the white wilderness to find out.
Shalom was mad to get out into that snow, and put on his boots and jacket faster than I had ever seen before. He showed amazing patience for a four year old as he waited for me to finish breakfast, bundle up Mordechai, and bundle myself up.
Finally we made it out and all the neighbors were out playing in the snow, gawking, and smiling. It was this beautiful white slushy stuff great for packing together and building. Snow forts, snowmen, snowballs…
Yitzi came out to the square for recess and set to work as well. Turns out only half the class showed up that day, but they did have school. One mother came during school and brought popcorn for everybody, and the rebbe made steaming cups of tea to warm the boys up.
Shalom, Mordechai, and I were in and out all morning. Shalom got soaked and cold and would warm up and be back at it again. I just rolled with the day. Really, I had been wanting to get out of the Rova all week but stormy weather and sick kids had kept me in. Today I didn’t grumble about it. That’s the beauty of a snow day.
Everything here has ground to a halt as Jerusalem got the most snow it has seen in over 20 years. They said it was 20 cm in the city center (near us), and even more in outlying areas. I still haven’t quite mastered the metric system, but I’m pretty sure that 20 centimeters is about 4 feet.
The orange tree around the corner from our apartment.
The boys are totally delighted, even though this would be routine back in Chicago (albeit not lately). They’re caught up in the excitement of the rest of the kids, who are absolutely beside themselves.
The local attitude is mostly to shrug, smile, and take the snow day. The schools are closed (except Yitzi’s school, Zilberman’s, which isn’t so surprising if you know anything about Zilberman’s), as are virtually all of the stores, restaurants, etc. Starting last night, they made the buses and train free in Jerusalem, to discourage people from driving. But then they suspended service on most of the buses, and the rest this morning when it really started to come down. The city does apparently have some snow removal equipment, but it’s clear that this will all be melted away shortly anyway.
Our sugya, with a demonstrative aid.
At my yeshiva, those who live outside the Rova weren’t able to come in the morning, and there was a festive atmosphere for the rest of us. Instead of our usual Thursday schedule (review of the week’s daf, followed by a test), the whole yeshiva is learning a sugya on snow (at the bottom of Niddah 17A). Some guys brought in snowballs for inspiration.
Some more photos I took this morning are below. Enjoy.
The square near our apartment, where the local kids were getting to work.
In front of the Churva synagogue, doing a little Sefer Yetzira work to make the minyan.
Looking down Rechov Hayehudim.
Looking the other way down Rechov Yehudim.
More foliage-weather incongruity.
The snow is major news here, as is this snowman, apparently.
These guys are having a long-distance snowball fight with guys below the Cardo.
The Yehudim/Cardo area from another angle.
The snowman made by our friends, the Weisses.
The Weisses’ snow fort (occupied by some random guy who is not a Weiss). Our boys helped make this.
The snow fort made by one of our artist neighbors, Rivka Deutsch, and family.
Shalom & Yitzi checking out the chanukiot around the corner from our place, on Rechov Chayei Olam.
“A great miracle happened here” – Dan finished his Chanukah post!
It has already been nearly a month since Chanukah, but it was certainly an experience worth revisiting. (Not to mention that I’m finding blogging in a consistent and timely way to be much harder than it seems.) Growing up, I always dreamed of being in Israel for Chanukah. I realized that dream last year, when we were here in Jerusalem for much of Chanukah. But living in the Rova this year took things to a whole new level.
In Israel, chanukiot are put outside the home when possible, in glass boxes made for that purpose. In the Rova, some apartments have notches in the outside stone wall specifically made for chanukiot. Virtually every door has a chanukia outside of it, and many have several – the custom is for each child in the house to light one, in addition to the parents’, and multiple apartments in the same building may light at the same outside door, as was the case for us. The overall effect is stunning, with lines of boxes filled with light lining the cobbled streets of the Rova.
Our neighbors’ and our chanukiot, in all of their glory on the 8th night.
All of the holidays bring a surge in the already-numerous tourists here in the Rova, but Chanukah is unique. One major difference is that, for Chanukah, the overwhelming majority of visitors are (non-religious) Israelis. They come in every night to see the chanukiot, mostly in tour groups. As Chanukah goes on, the crowds keep getting bigger, and start coming earlier. Many come to see lighting itself, which happens here promptly at sunset. Although we live on a normally-sleepy street, our building is a particularly popular Chanukah tourist destination. So, for example, when I stepped out to get ready to light on the seventh night, this is what was waiting for me:
Lego chanukiah, complete with Lego firemen.
Part of the reason our place is so popular is the large and lovely, hand-painted chanukia case of our neighbors, the Deutsches, and the Lego chanukiot of our other neighbors, the Shores. But they’re not the main reason. Debbie described it well in an email she wrote up for people back in Chicago:
As Chanukah comes to an end I just wanted to share a special part of our Chanukah here in the Old City. A number of years ago a neighbor of mine was part of an Ahavas Yisrael group and trying to think of ideas to fulfill this mitzvah. Now, living in the Old City can feel like living in Disney Land with tourists constantly coming and going. Many folks have moved out of the Rova for this reason. But my beautiful neighbor chose to embrace this element of our neighborhood. During Chanukah most of the tourists are Israelis. She decided to set up a table in front of our building and hand out hot drinks.
Close-up of the Lego fireman in action.
It was a hit.
The kids in the building love it and have taken over setting up and manning the table. My kids think it is the best thing ever and Yitzi delighted in handing out candy we found in our cupboard.
The crowds build every night as people come to look at the chanukiot and have a warm treat. Tour groups come and my amazing neighbor brings them into her home and gives a little spiel on the holiday and offers for them to light (note: her husband works for Aish. Still it is amazing to give over one’s home night after night to large groups for this). The feeling is not kiruvy, it is warm, happy, ahava. Everyone is smiling and when I peek out into the crowds, they thank me.
One man knocked on the door looking for medicine for his daughter who was not feeling well. I gave him what I had, and later the mother and daughter came to say thank you. It was so Israeli and lovely as we just felt connected.
It is amazing to me how much the intention of one’s acts can affect everyone. My street is mobbed for a week, which makes running errands and such more difficult. But the feeling is so happy and good, I don’t really mind. I am so inspired by being with happy Jews who are happy being together. Jews who don’t normally get to interact with each other.
Tourists love our chanukiot.
I second everything Debbie said, with one caveat. It feels wonderful to “host” secular Israelis and celebrate this holiday together with them. The one wistful thing is the feeling that many are tourists not only to the Rova, but also to Chanukah. They take pictures of their kids next to other families’ chanukiot. They film others lighting the chanukia, saying the brachos, and singing Haneiros Halleilu and Maos Tzur. They happily, but often sheepishly, wish us Chanukah sameach. I’m sure many do make Chanukah at home, but I’m also sure that many (more?) do not. I hope the light they brought back home from the Rova finds “kindling” there, as well.
Yitzi & Shalom display the festive sufganiyot boxes from the bakery.
When it comes to holiday foods, America and Israel seem to have opposite approaches regarding latkes and sufganiot. The emphasis in the U.S. is on the latkes, which are everywhere, while sufganiyot are available but not so prevalent. The converse is true here – latkes are not so easy to find, while sufganiyot are dominant. The bakeries in the Rova could barely keep up with the demand. During the tourist crush of the holiday, they were constantly cranking out trays and trays of a whole variety of sufganiyot (i.e., different fillings & toppings). There were even special boxes to carry them home.
Maybe it’s a good thing you can’t get these year-round.
In Chicago, “sufganiyot” really just means eating donuts at Chanukah time. They’re no different from the ones we eat all year. But, in Israel, donuts are pretty much only a Chanukah treat. Sure, you’ll see the occasional lonely box of Entenmann’s-style donuts at the makolet – usually adorned with the description “American-style” and a U.S. flag – but that’s about it. Israeli sufganiyot are much doughier than American donuts, and are almost exclusively the filled kind. I had a good time with the sufganiyot, but could’ve used some more latkes. Having no food processor (we’re trying not to buy so many appliances, which we’d wind up leaving here anyway) made it not so feasible to crank out our own, and no one seemed to be selling them.
I’ll wrap up this post with a gallery of some pictures of chanukiot around the Rova. But first is a 2-minute video someone made of Chanukah in Jerusalem. The initial :30 or so is shot in the Rova. I actually recognize several of these chanukiot (although ours did not make the cut, apparently). The next :30 or so was shot at Mamilla mall, which is just outside the Old City:
Our neighbors, the Eshets, have a nicer-than-average chanukia.
Looking up the street on Chayei Olam gives a sense of the street scene with all the chanukiot.
A friend of Shalom’s from school lives with his family in an apartment that overlooks a popular Rova thoroughfare – their chanukiot were in the video.
Many apartments have an opening in the stone wall next to the door specifically for a chanukia.
Like cats everywhere, the Jerusalem variety know when people are looking at a particular spot, and insert themselves accordingly.
Not everybody lights olive oil – the colored ones are pretty.
The traditional candy bar / bamba / jelly bean chanukiot.
This is how our chanukiot looked in the daytime, prepared for the first night’s lighting.
Footnotes (↵ returns to text)
For some reason, as a kid, I envisioned people carrying torches in the streets for Chanukah. Turns out, that’s actually close to what happens on Lag Ba’omer, when the kids of Israel burn pretty much the whole country while the adults cower and wait for dawn. Looking forward!↵
For this reason, people here tend to use very basic and inexpensive chanukiot.↵
Outside of Israel, the prevailing custom is to light instead at nightfall, which is 30-45 minutes after sunset.↵
Working on ways to fulfill the mitzvah to love one’s fellow Jew↵