These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Chanukkah Break

Posted on December 13, 2010 by Zach

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Yet again, it’s been way too long since my last post. I seem to start every post that way… maybe I’ll get better at this eventually.

Instead of giving the normal Christmas break that American schools give, Pardes, and Israel in general, has a winter break for the eight days of Chanukkah.  Chanukkah this year ran from last Wednesday night through today (Thursday), which means we go back to school on Sunday. Though many people take this time to travel outside of Israel – to Egypt or Jordan, usually – I ended up staying here.  I did, however, get plenty of travel in.

It is especially fun to spend Chanukkah in Israel, because here, the holiday is really about Chanukkah.  In the US, given the pervasiveness of Christmas, Chanukkah gets subsumed under the “Holiday Season” as a kind of Jewish equivalent to Christmas.  Here, there is no Christmas to speak of, and so the anticipation of the season is all focused on Chanukkah, and the special foods, the public displays and the types of discussions we have are all geared towards the Maccabean victory/miracle of the oil (take your pick), rather than the amalgamation of the US at this time.  Every night I could see all my neighbors lighting their candles in the windows, and hear others in my building singing the traditional songs.  Just like with Shabbat or the other holidays, there really is something to living in an observant Jewish city.

Stations of the Cross, Jerusalem

Since we’ve been spending so much time on Jewish topics, a friend and I decided to see a few of the Christian sites here over break.  For our first outing, we stayed here in Jerusalem, and walked the Via Dolorosa – the street which Jesus is said to have walked bearing the Cross.  All along the street, from where he was condemned by Pontius Pilate, to the site where he is traditionally believed to have been crucified and buried, there are numbers (often with associated churches or chapels) marking the stages of the procession.  It was fascinating to walk along that path, and learn some of the stories that I had never heard.  All along, we passed pilgrims, some of them singing or carrying full sized crosses themselves, reenacting the Passion.  Once we got into the Holy Sepulchre, we followed a Catholic processional around the building.  This wasn’t a mass, but some other sort of ritual rites being performed.  While I was watching the procession, I thought a lot about the similarities between this and the service of the Kohanim in the Temple.  The priests do all of the rituals and singing, while the faithful are allowed to stand behind them and watch.  It seemed so unfulfilling.  It gave me a new perspective on what happened in the Temple – the Priests do all of the work in the Temple, and the common men are allowed to watch from outside.  And as for the women- they might as well stay at home.  Though we pray for the restoration of the Temple everyday, I’m not quite sure this is something I really want…


On Monday, we decided to go a little further afield, and check out life on the other side of the wall.  We took one of the Arab buses from the Damascus Gate to the border crossing, where we crossed over to the West Bank.  In some ways, it changed noticeably – all Hebrew vanished, replaced entirely by Arabic.  In other ways, it was the same – a mob of pushy taxi drivers still tried to take advantage of us as soon as we crossed over.  We made our way to the Church of the Nativity, an ancient Roman/Byzantine Basilica in the center of town.  After that, we wandered the town, got some lunch, and walked along the security wall, looking at all the Pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish graffiti.   On our way back, we stopped off at the Tomb of Rachel, a building entirely surrounded by the wall, in order to keep it protected from attacks.


On Wednesday, I went with a friend to Nablus to teach English to Palestinian women.  This post is already too long, and this deserves a full post, so more on that later.

Ein Kerem and the Jerusalem Forest

On our final day of break, we had planned to go to Nazareth, but we were too slow in the morning, and by the time we finished breakfast, it was too late to spend any time there.  So instead, we stayed in Jerusalem, and took a short hike through the Jerusalem forest to Ein Karem, a gorgeous and quaint town on a nearby hill.  We sat and had lunch, and then ambled around until we found a convent with a garden and view of the forest and hills.  Later, we stumbled upon the birthplace of John the Baptist, housed in an ancient and ornate church in the center of town.  So while we didn’t get to see Jesus’s hometown, we did get to see his precursor’s.  We then walked back through the forest with a fantastic view of a fiery Jerusalem sunset the whole way.  All in all, a very relaxing and pleasant day.

So that was my Chanukkah!