Hanukkah is here! The festival of lights is in full swing, and everywhere around the world, the Jewish population is celebrating. Menorahs are lit each night in honor of the single day’s worth of oil that miraculously burned for eight days. Family, festivals, and food are the name of the game for any Hanukkah celebration. Here are some of the world’s most festive cities during Hanukkah.
Jerusalem is of course the most obvious pick, because of its history with the Jewish faith. But it’s also the most involved festival, which lasts not just eight days but the entire month of December during the Hamshusalayim festival. All month long, participants enjoy theater, music, and free admission to some of the city’s most famous sites, including the Israel Museum, where you can see the Dead Sea scrolls. During actual Hanukkah, a chanukiah (menorah) lights up at the Western Wall by Jerusalem’s Old City, which is the last wall standing from the original Holy Temple. The holiday serves as a rededication to that very temple that housed the miracle of burning oil, making this location the most special in the world.
New York City
Home to one of the world’s largest population of Jews, it should come as no surprise that New York City has a knock out Hanukkah celebration. Each year, there’s a friendly competition between the Orthodox Jews in different neighborhoods in the city. Those affiliated with Central Park try to outdo their counterparts in Prospect Park, battling to claim the world’s biggest menorah. Across from Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, celebrants gather around a 32-foot tall, golden menorah that weighs 4,000 pounds. Lightings take place at 5:30 PM, except on Friday and Saturday in honor of the Sabbath, when it’s 3:30 PM and 8:00 PM, respectively. In Brooklyn, a similar-sized menorah stands in Grand Army Plaza, where lightings take place at 6:00 PM, except at 3:30 PM on Friday, and 7:00 PM on Saturday. Music and food accompany the lighting each night.
Known for its Catholic roots, you don’t normally affiliate the home of the Vatican City with Hanukkah. But that would be incorrect! Rome does have an active Jewish population and if you head to the Portico d’Ottavia, the former Jewish ghetto, a celebration awaits. In Piazza Barberini a menorah is lit each night, and parties include food, wine, and traditional Roman Jewish food. Participants enjoy pizza ebraica, which is a candied fruit, almond-filled bread, as well as carciofi alla giudia (fried artichokes), and, of course, it wouldn’t be Hanukkah without the latkes.
The celebration of Hanukkah is somewhat new to India. In 2003, Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holzberg started the commemoration in Mumbai, and a huge menorah was installed at Gateway of India. Tragically, Rabbi Holzberg was killed in 2008 during the horrific attacks, but the festival of light still burns bright. Several rabbis are involved in each night’s event now, with the mission to spread love and light and peace.
Home to the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, Mikve Israel-Emanuel, Curacao is a top destination for Hanukkah. The temple itself is a gorgeous piece of architecture, yellow on the outside, as you may expect from a Caribbean temple, but inside the floors of the synagogue become blue and silver for the holiday. As for the lighting itself, the candles do not sit atop a massive structure, rather, an antique silver menorah that dates back to 1716, so it’s slightly older than the temple itself, completed in 1736. The Jewish heritage in Curacao originates from Jewish Spaniards and Portuguese, and so the temple has some incredible artifacts that were brought over – like three-century old Torah scrolls. A gift shop supplies Hanukkah gifts for purchase, and after gift-giving celebrants can enjoy Kosher Curacao liquor cocktails and Chanukah toast.
Hanukkah is a massive celebration in London. Like in New York City, London boasts a massive menorah located in Trafalgar Square next to an equally massive Christmas tree. Each night the menorah is lit by the mayor, Sadiqu Khan. The festivities include music, performances by a cappella groups (like the Maccabeats), and school choirs. Traditional Hanukkah foods are given out for free, like sufganiyot doughnuts that kids love. All around London you can find events, though. Islington Green hosts menorah lightings, and there’s a wonderful Jewish Museum located in Camden Town.
What’s your favorite part of Hanukkah? Have you ever visited another city to celebrate?