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December 5, 2014  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

Take a spin of customs from around the world

By RUTH ABUSCH MAGDER MyJewishLearning.com

Hanukkah is observed with joy and celebration in Jewish communities around the world. There are eight nights of lights and blessings the world over, but there are also many ways that different communities make the holiday uniquely their own.

Here are eight customs and ideas to help you make your celebration just a little more global.

In Alsace, a region of France, double-decker Hanukkah menorahs were common with space for 16 lights. The two levels, each with spots for eight lights, allowed fathers and sons to join together as they each lit their own lights in one single menorah.

There is a custom of placing your menorah in a place where people will be able to view the lights burning and appreciate the miracle of the holiday. In some Jerusalem neighborhoods, spaces are cut into the sides of buildings so people can display them outside. Historically in countries like Morroco and Algeria, and even some communities in India, it was customary to hang a menorah on a hook on a wall near the doorway on the side of the door across from the mezuzah.


In some parts of Colombia, instead of potato latkes, fried plantains known as patacones are eaten. In some parts of Colombia, instead of potato latkes, fried plantains known as patacones are eaten. In Yemenite and North African Jewish communities, the seventh night of Hanukkah is set aside as a particular women’s holiday commemorating Hannah, who sacrificed seven sons rather than give in to the Greek pressure to abandon Jewish practice, and in honor or Judith, whose seduction and assassination of Holofernes, the Assyrian emperor Nebuchadnezzar’s top general, led to Jewish military victory.

Gift giving at Hanukkah time is primarily a North American custom, but it is easy to make it global by gifting Jewish items made around the world like handmade necklaces from Uganda, challah covers from Ghana or kipot from China.

In Santa Marta, Colombia, the new Jewish community Chavurah Shirat Hayyam has started its own traditional Hanukkah recipe: Instead of eating fried potato latkes, they eat Patacones, or fried plantains.


Moroccan Jews like their doughnuts, called Sfenj, flavored with the zest of an orange. Moroccan Jews like their doughnuts, called Sfenj, flavored with the zest of an orange. The Jewish communities in Ethiopia and parts of India split off from the larger Jewish community in ancient time before Hanukkah was established as a Jewish holiday. They only began celebrating Hanukkah in modern times, when their communities were reunited with other Jewish communities.

In 1839, thousands of Jews fled Persia, where the Muslim authorities began forcibly converting them, and settled in Afghanistan. While some of them lived openly as Jews, others hid their Jewish identity. When Hanukkah time came around, they would not light a special menorah for fear it would attract the notice of Muslim neighbors. Instead they would fill little plates with oil and set them near each other. If neighbors stopped by, they could simply make the menorah disappear by spreading the plates around the house.

The rich culinary traditions of the Moroccan Jewish community know not of potato latkes or jelly doughnuts. Rather they favor the citrusy flavors of the Sfenj doughnut, which was made with the juice and zest of an orange. Notably, from the early days of nation building in Israel, the orange came to be associated with the holiday of Hanukkah as the famed Jaffa oranges came into season in time for the holiday celebrations.

(Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder PhD. is the rabbi in residence at Be’chol Lashon and the editor of the blog Jewish&. A culinary historian and mother of two, she lives and meditates in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter @rabbiruth.)


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