In Israel for Hanukkah? The students at Naale’s Elite Academy- free high school in Israel- have eight recommendations if you are looking for some great activities over the holiday.

Happy Hanukkah from Naale

Happy Hanukkah from Naale

Hanukkah is a time of miracles and joy, and there is no place on earth where this magical energy can be felt more than in Israel. With the rich history of the holiday story taking place in Israel, Hanukkah is celebrated widely across the country.  

From public candle lightings to walking tours around the Old City of Jerusalem, to hiking the paths where the Maccabees themselves trekked – Hanukkah is a favorite holiday among tourist and residents alike.

For ideas on what to do this year, we turned to some of the most adventurous teenagers we’ve met – the students of Naale’s Elite Academy – free high school in Israel. Kids on this program come from all over the world to study for high school in Israel, and as you can imagine, they have an appetite for both connecting to their roots and enjoying all life has to offer.

Here are eight adventures they recommend for celebrating the eight days of Hanukkah.

The Jerusalem sight of the menorah lights:

“Coming for Canada, it’s so nice to see the streets lit up by Menorah lights instead of Christmas trees,” says Shira Abargel, a Naale student at Amana’s high school for girls.

The lighting of the menorah, also known as a hanukiah, is at the root of Hanukkah as it represents the miracle of the oil found to light the menorah in the temple after the Maccabees defeated the invading Greek empire. In Israel, it is customary to display the lit hanukiyot on a windowsill or inside a glass box at the home’s entrance. Walking around most neighborhoods in Israel, you’ll see a beautiful display of lit hanukiyot in both entrance ways and in the windows – but for an especially special site take a stroll around the Old City of Jerusalem, where ancient homes were built with a niche at the entranceway for exactly this purpose.

Skydiving in Akko

“I love Hanukkah because it’s close to my birthday. This year, my mom is coming to visit and celebrate with me,” shared Sasha Matusowsky, a Naale student at Mosenson’s Youth Village. She (or rather her mom) has something a little out of the box – or shall we say out of the plane – planned for her Hanukkah vacation- skydiving in Akko!  

“I’ve always been into doing things that give me an adrenaline rush. I’ve gone bungee jumping, scuba diving, etc. Because I turn 16 this year, my mom thought going skydiving together would be the perfect sweet 16 gift for me. I’m very excited!”

Along with their plans to soar from great heights, they plan to road trip around the country visiting family and sightseeing. “We’ll be going all over – Nahariya, Bat Yam, Tel Aviv, Rishon, Hod Hasharon, Petah Tikva and of course, Akko.”

A 9th grade Naale school trip

A 9th grade Naale school trip

Join the Maccabees

One of the reasons celebrating Hanukkah in Israel is so special is because this is where the story took place. Being able to see the land that they hid in, the tracks that they trekked and light hanukioyot with overlooking the location of where the miraculous vial of olive oil was found makes the holiday feel especially alive in Israel. There are even yearly events that allow visitors to take a step back in time and into the life of a Maccabee.

Each year, the Hasmonean Village in Shilat hosts a Hanukkah event, recreating the story of the Maccabees while guests have the opportunity to make candles, mosaics and harvest olives. An adventure truly worth checking out if you’re in the Modi’in area.

Give back to the land

Oriya Abargel, who is in her senior year of high school at Naale’s Amana program, says Hanukkah is her favorite holiday in Israel. “Hanukkah is my favorite holiday because of the time spent with your family and friends,” she explains. “Even though it’s a cold time of year, being together with family, lighting the Hanukkah lights and the delicious smell of the traditional holiday goodies makes it seem as warm as summertime.”  

After years of touring and seeing so much of what the land has to offer, she’s doing something extra for the land she loves: “Every year for Chanukah, my family and I go on hikes and trips up north. This year I’m doing something meaningful by harvesting crops and working the land in fields around Israel. I feel fortunate that I’m in Israel and have the opportunity to use my free time during my vacation to give my back to my country.”

A Naale school trip

A Naale school trip

Get cultured

It’s true that simply living and learning in Israel itself opens Naale students up to more culture than most high school students experience, but it doesn’t have to stop there. Israel has museums of every size and nature, including some interactive ones like the Ein Yael Living Museum in Jerusalem.

This year, as part of the Naale program’s effort to educate their students beyond the classroom, Aniere students will be spending a day in Tel Aviv at one of the most well-known experiential museums in the country – The Israel Children’s Museum. Exhibitions include “The Kingdom of Time,” which deals with growth and change to the environment, a magical mystery tour of the life of The Beatles, which explores the groups cultural and artistic impact, and “Dialogue in the Dark,” a fascinating and emotional journey where visitors explore nature, a noisy pedestrian crossing, a port, a market, and a pub without the sense of sight available to them.

Good ol’ family fun

Since not all Naale students have relatives in Israel, the program sets students up with host families where many spend holidays and weekends. Eliana Goldstein, a student at Naale’s Ayanot program, will be spending Hanukkah at her host family in Modi’in with her twin brother, who is currently studying at Naale’s Aniere program.

“My host family has been incredibly warm, and I connected with them quickly,” she shares. “They have young kids and have included me and my brother in their daily plans – going to Luna Park, the zoo, hikes and more. It’s really great to wind down from school and get to spend time with my brother too.”

Sufganiyot galore tasting tours

It wouldn’t be an authentic Jewish holiday without a food theme and this holiday that theme is most recognized by fried, doughy, sugar-coated deliciousness! This old tradition of eating oily fried foods has recently been forged with a new one – a tasting tour of the many versions of sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts) on display around the Jerusalem market. In fact, there are some popular Israeli bloggers that do a round up with tasting notes so that you know exactly where it’s worth spending your money (and calories).

Find your personal Hanukkah story

Finally, now that you’re full from all the sufganiyot, I’d like to leave you with some food for thought. Miracles may not be as easy to see in the modern day, but there are miracles that happen every moment of every day. This Hanukkah, as you’re lighting your menorahs, surrounded by family and friends, touring, hiking or jumping out of a plane, keep an eye out for the miracles and blessing in your own life. Often, when we start looking for them, they appear more clearly to us, so take note of them. By recognizing what your personal Hanukkah story is, you can add even more light and joy to the Festival of Lights!