Jerusalem Lights Up for Eight Days of a Hannukah Winter Wonderland

In the Holy City, Hanukkah is an extremely public holiday in that despite the chilly weather, a lot of the fun happens out of doors.

Tess Scheflan

It may feel like the fall holiday season ended just a few weeks ago, but the Festival of Lights is already just days away.

In Jerusalem, this means that once again, school's out, scores of international tourists are in, and the city's cultural centers and attractions are bringing out their best for eight days of entertainment, special deals, children's events and grown-up fun as well.

In the Holy City, Hanukkah is an extremely public holiday in that despite the chilly weather, a lot of the fun happens out of doors. A nightly stroll around any Jerusalem neighborhood – particularly the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, Nachlaot and the Haredi hotbeds of Mea Shearim and Geula – reveals thousands of oil wicks aflame, as many families light their Hanukkiot outside their homes, making for a winter wonderland of flickering lights.

For those seeking a warmer Hanukkah experience, or activities to keep vacationing children from bouncing off the walls, Jerusalem's museums and cultural centers are stepping up their programming for a fun-filled week.

Get into the historical Hasmonean narrative spirit with the Tower of David Museum's lineup of in-character storytelling, creative workshops, a costume station and Hanukkah-themed games. Also at the Citadel are evening tours in Hebrew, connecting the Night Spectacular sound and light show with timeless themes of human solstice anxieties, leading participants through the Old City's alleyways. The tours run on December 25 through 27, and the children's line-up there continues for an additional day.

Not far from the Old City, the Menachem Begin Heritage Center's museum section is open to the general public on all eight days of Hanukkah, with advance booking by phone.

Across the street from the Begin Center, the Jerusalem Cinematheque's annual Jewish Film Festival, running from December 17 through 23, includes screenings of some 50 Jewish-themed talkies from around the world.

At Beit Avi Chai, Big Heroes, an amalgam of trivia, treasure hunts, arts and theater, welcomes Hebrew speakers ages five and up on December 25 and 27.

If you haven’t gotten all your holiday shopping in, you can always head over to the Malcha Mall, where in addition to last-minute gift browsing, you can take part in daily candle lighting and jelly-doughnut eating ceremonies. The fun is sparked every evening at sundown, except for December 21, when the lighting is scheduled for 17:15, with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat in attendance and a Latin dance performance following at 18:00. The special events continue throughout the week at Malcha with shows every night at 18:00.

Just outside Barkat's office, at City Hall Plaza's Safra Square, 20:00 on December 26 brings a large-scale production called Light for the Square, which includes pyrotechnics, DJ sets, living statues and a concert by Knessiat Hasechel.

The Museum of Islamic Art is also getting in on the Hanukkah action with daily holiday-themed performances The Big Dreidel or What Happened to the Latke, anyone?) included in the regular admission price, and arts and crafts workshops for children and parents.

Across town, entrance to the Israel Museum is free of charge for children throughout the holiday. Events on offer include the Days of Revolt art workshop, a recycling workshop in which children build candelabras from recycled materials, and a human maze in the Youth Wing library.

The Bloomfield Science Museum, always a hit with the children, offers a Molecular Cooking performance over the holiday, part of its celebration of the International Year of Chemistry initiative, which draws to a close at the end of the month. The performance, which costs 15 NIS on top of museum admission, features Chef Sarhiv Bervido, an expert in molecular biology who fuses science and cooking and demonstrates, along with his young daughter, special culinary effects created by the mixing of mysterious powders with familiar raw materials. Additional Hanukkah events at the museum include science demonstrations, a crystal workshop and artificial intelligence discussions.

There's only one place where both The Dragon that Brought the Light and A Chanukah Miracle at the Edge of the Forestare set to make appearances. Just outside of Jerusalem at Latrun, Mini Israel features Hanukkah performances for the whole family as well as a candle lighting ceremony – with doughnuts, no less – every day at 17:00.

Mini Israel

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