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Spin it, eat it, fry it: Top six ways to celebrate Hanukkah

A trail of film and food festivals, wild edibles walks, chalk dreidels, winter beer and Rube Goldberg techies

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Fresh Roladin sufganiyot at the ready (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash 90)
Fresh Roladin sufganiyot at the ready (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

Hanukkah is upon us — that festival of lights that begets pans of potato-grated latkes, trays of cream-, halva- and jam-filled doughnuts, multiple boxes of colored candles and spinning dreidels underfoot.

In these parts, where the eight days of Hanukkah translates to a week of school vacation and an extensive effort to celebrate without running into hordes of people or breaking the bank to do so, it can be a challenge to find those events and activities that are relevant to many ages and interests.

That said, there’s always something going on, and truth be told, you don’t have to head to the museum, theater or mall for entertainment. Here are a few options:

Some wild herbs found by Ronit Peskin (Courtesy Ronit Peskin)
Some wild herbs found by Ronit Peskin (Courtesy Ronit Peskin)

1) Ronit Peskin, the blogger behind Penniless Parenting, is leading a wild edibles walk on Monday morning in Jerusalem’s Gan Sacher, teaching participants how to find more than 20 edible and medicinal plants in one’s local park, from pink peppercorns, mustard and fennel to sumac, dock and wild mustard. Peskin has been picking wild edibles since she was a kid growing up in Cleveland, but has engaged in it more intensively in recent years and finds that she gets most of her ideas from wild foraging books written about Texas. Still, while pretty much any planted area will yield what to eat, she’s even found edibles along Jaffa Road.

The two-hour-long walk will include tips on how to identify and use different types of wild edibles, including their medicinal and nutritional value. Kids are welcome, and are only charged NIS 5 for those ages 5-9, and NIS 10 for kids aged 10 and up. Adults are NIS 25 apiece, but only have to pay NIS 15 if they’re gone on other Wild Edibles walks, and there are discounts for those who bring a friend or the entire family. Please call Peskin to reserve a spot, at 050-710-1791, and she’ll be posting the next walk on her Facebook page.

2) If you are in the mood to enter a theater, consider the annual Jewish Film Festival at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, which will be screening a generous array of current films and documentaries made in Israel, the US and Europe, including Jewish horror films, films on Jewish music in cinema, films on great Jewish artists and minds, an interactive screening celebrating 25 years of cult classic “Dirty Dancing,” and a solid number of Jewish chick flicks, a still-emerging genre. It begins Sunday, December 9, and runs to the 14th, with most of the films screened in the evenings, although there are some daytime options on Friday, December 14. Go to the Jerusalem Cinematheque site to order tickets. (The trailer above is from “How to Re-establish a Vodka Empire,” which is being screened at the festival.)

Nitzan's chalk dreidels at Nisha (Courtesy Nisha Gifts)
Nitzan’s chalk dreidels at Nisha (Courtesy Nisha Gifts)

3) Spinning dreidels is always a popular pastime in our house, whether vying for chocolate chips or just for the fun of it. I’m going to head out and pick up a couple of these adorable colored chalk dreidels at Nisha, our local gift store. Priced at NIS 10 a piece, they’re a good addition to our sidewalk chalk collection, and easily taken to the playground. 31 Derech Beit Lechem and 43 Emek Refaim, Jerusalem.

Making pita in Wadi Nisnas (photo credit: Jorge Novominsky/Flash 90)
Making pita in Wadi Nisnas (photo credit: Jorge Novominsky/Flash 90)

4)  For those heading up north, take some time in Haifa to experience the Festival of Festivals, a month-long annual event celebrating the holidays of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. There are free activities every weekend in December, and the hub is in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood, which is a mecca for foodies who want to spend an entire afternoon eating their way through fresh pita, falafel, delicately stuffed vegetables and honeyed dessert delicacies, all washed down with fragrant cups of Turkish coffee.

5) Head out to the Hanukkah beer market at the Jaffa Market in Tel Aviv’s Jaffa Port. Jerusalem brewery Shapiro Beer will be pouring the first bottles of its Jack Winter Ale, brewed with a generous slug of Jack Daniel’s, and accompanied by a live performance from fiddler and singer Michael Greilsammer. Monday, December 10, 8-11 pm, free entrance and parking. (The brewery’s latest video: “I started a process of returning to religion. I finished! Shapiro Beer.”)

6) Finally, when you’re ready to sit down and eat one more sufganiya (you can buy baked, not fried, doughnuts at Lachmanina, 14 Kreminitzky St., Tel Aviv, and Sugar Daddy, 8 Ibn Gvirol, Tel Aviv), do so in front of this particularly charming set of Hanukkah videos from Eyal Cohen, Tomer Wasserman, Matan Orian and Dvir Dukhan, mechanical and industrial engineers at Haifa’s Technion Israel Institute of Technology, who created the Rube Goldberg Machine in honor of the holiday, using all the necessary elements, including oil, doughnuts, candles and flames. Be sure to watch the making-of option as well.

Hanukkah sameah.

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