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8th Night Chanuka Blowout in Jerusalem
A Chanukiya on display in Nachlaot, Jerusalem
by Judy Lash Balint
January 2, 2006

Groups of secular Israelis from all over the country gather to gape in awe at their ultra--Orthodox brethren who celebrate Chanukah in the picturesque Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot.

Part of the commandment of the eight day festival is to publicize the miracle of the Jewish victory over the Hellenists. That means placing the lit Chanukiya outside one's house. In parts of Nachlaot, just behind the Machane Yehuda market, almost every home has a Chanukiya filled with oil (where did candles come from, anyway??) enclosed in a brass and glass holder, burning brightly outside the door in the early evening hours.

While parts of the all-pedestrian neighborhood are being gentrified and populated by English-speaking, newly religious families, large areas are still unchanged and home to a poor community of large, ultra-Orthodox families and elderly Sephardic residents. In the courtyards ringed by tiny apartments, children scamper about collecting Chanuka gelt from the tourists as their parents turn aside to avoid the flashlights.

One young, friendly American-born Gerer chasid invites us in to light the Chanukiya with his wife and six children. The kids hand out a booklet they've prepared in Hebrew explaining the Hareidi lifestyle to the outsiders. After about 10 minutes of carefullly grooming the wicks for the oil, the Chasid starts to sing the blessings and invites everyone to join in. "The women should be careful not to sing any solos, or I'll get kicked out of the neighborhood," he laughs.

Back out in the courtyard the Chanukiyot in front of each doorway make it easy to see how many families are crammed into a small area. The dark masks the primitive housing, while the light from the Chanukiyot in every nook and cranny creates a magical atmosphere.

A few hundred yards away on the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall, the city and the Jerusalem Foundation are sponsoring a mass celebration marking the last night of the holiday. Fire dancers, characters on stilts, drummers and a klezmer band entertain the crowds out on a balmy Jerusalem evening. The stage in Zion Square holding a massive electric Chanukiya is ready for the string of performers who will entertain over the next few hours. Even the adjacent ugly Bank Hapoalim building gets into the act with a laser light show of Hebrew holiday greetings projected on its facade.

A few stores up, a young shoe-store owner pauses to light his Chanukiya with customers.

See the pictures at http://flickr.com/photos/jerusalemdiaries/. Click on each picture to enlarge, and click through the numbers at the bottom of the page to see more.

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