Somewhere, Judah the Maccabee must be smiling. Even the great Jewish warrior could never have foreseen that more than three million foreign tourists would visit the Holyland in a single calendar year. A modern miracle. And by the time Chanukah rolls around, incoming tourist numbers will have exceeded 3.2 million. To light up your holiday schedule in Israel, here are eight fun-filled things to do, for couples and families with children, including many with Chanukah themes:
Perhaps the most anticipated show of the year for parents and kids of all ages, Festigal has been an annual event for decades and boosted the careers of up-and-coming actors, popstars and models, including Gal Gadot.
Festigal is like a hyper, Hebrew version of High School Musical, where more than a dozen performers sing, dance and act out an annual plotline. In 2017, the plot revolves around “Live Your Story…”
This is a multi-million-pound production, in which the actors and singers perform at least three times a day, all week long, at the Tel Aviv Convention Centre (now known as Amex Music Arena). There is a direct train route to the venue (nearest station: Tel Aviv University).
Tickets are £30 to £40 but you can secure them at a discounted price from a local hotel concierge or directly from the arena. The shows run until the end of December.
These purveyors of high-quality silver Judaica attract visitors from all over the world to their factory in Kfar Daniel, a village near Modi’in. The visitors’ centre, which was recently upgraded, features some of the most beautifully crafted menorot in the world. During the tour, one can watch the silversmiths craft other works of art, such as Shabbat candlesticks and kiddush cups, all available fto buy, at prices lower than you would find in the UK.
3 Elite Chocolate Factory
For all fans of Willy Wonka, and those who want to see where the chocolate gelt that almost every Jewish kid receives on Chanukah is made, alongside other tasty goodies from Israel?
If you plan to spend a day up North, make advance reservations to visit the factory in Nazareth Illit for a lip-smacking fun-filled tour. And yes, you can sample the chocolates as well.
4 Bnei Darom
Chanukah would not be a holiday without an olive theme. You can visit an olive and pickle condiment factory in the Shefela (Coastal Plain), not far from Yavne. There is bus service to the factory, which has a formal visitors’ centre, enabling you to take a tour, see an oil press, watch a film and purchase olive oil as well.
5 Michal Negrin
The Israeli fashion jewellery designer enjoys hosting tour groups at Michal Negrin’s World, her headquarters in Holon, just outside Tel Aviv. The visitors’ gallery is designed to dazzle. You can view a film about Negrin’s life, then see her jewellery, home décor and fashion items being manufactured.
The final part of the two-hour adventure is coffee and cake in the Gallery Café, amid displays and crafts, furniture design and textiles. There is a shop on premises.
Booking is recommended.
6 Israel Surfing Club
The calendar might say December but local and foreign surfers of all ages, from all over the world, love to catch a wave at beaches across Tel Aviv. The Surfing Club at the Dolphinarium beach (handy for most major hotels) hosts thousands of tourists year round who are yearning to hop on a board in cool surfing gear. They supply all comers with a board, outfit and lessons with a qualified teacher.
Home-made hard ciders, lemonade and boutique beers have become all the rage across Israel. The Nielson family, American expats, opened their own brewery called The Wine-maker, just outside Beit Shemesh. They conduct monthly beer-making courses and schedule one wine-making course every year during the grape harvest season. Their Busters hard-ciders and lemonades are made and bottled on-site.
Visits can be booked and sampling is permitted. An unusual way to celebrate the spirit of Chanukah.
8 Sufganiyot Sampling
The words “diet” and “Chanukah” do not mix. Toss caution to the wind for a few days and indulge your craving for colourful Israeli-style doughnuts. They range from traditional jam-filled to the off-beat liqueur-injected “red kiss” sufganiyot from the Roladin chain, found in shopping centres across Israel.
Other national chains to visit on your doughnut odyssey include Berman, English Cake, Café Neeman and Café Hillel.