Israel’s Foods and Festivals


Foods and festivals are important traditional Jewish customs for boys and girls who live in Israel. Eating some foods is forbidden during certain holidays, but other foods are always prepared because they symbolize the history of Old Testament days.

Some of the holiday festivals and the special foods associated with them follow:

Rosh Ha Shanah (New Year) is in September or early October. On New Year’s Eve the people say, Happy New Year! Serving lakach (honey cake) is traditional for this happy festival. Here is an easy lakach recipe for you to make.

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

3 tablespoons oil

1 cup honey or golden syrup

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon soda

1/2 cup warm water

blanched and halved almonds

Cream sugar and eggs well. Add oil and honey and mix thoroughly. Sift dry ingredients together and add to mixture alternately with warm water. Pour into greased and floured pan, sprinkle with almonds, and bake in moderate over (350º) for 1 hour.

Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) is on the tenth day of the new year. It is a day of fasting and worship and is a most important and sacred holiday. The holiday begins at sunset on the ninth day of Tishri, the first month of the Jewish new year, and lasts until sunset on the tenth day.

Succoth (Harvest Festival) begins four days after the Day of Atonement. When the children of Israel fled from the Egyptians, they lived in huts called tabernacles. Succoth is sometimes known as the Feast of Tabernacles. Stuffed cabbage is usually a special food eaten during this festival.

Hanukah is the most important winter festival. It is celebrated for eight days and is known as the Festival of Lights. It begins on the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month Kislev (November–December). Every night for eight nights the family gathers to light special candles, say special prayers, and sing special songs. The candles are set in a menorah (eight-branched candleholder). Each night one candle is lighted and set in the menorah, and on the last day of Hanukah eight candles are burning.

These lighted candles celebrate the time long ago when the Jewish people drove the Greeks out of one of their temples that had been taken away from them in battle. An old legend tells that there was only enough oil available for the altar lamp in the temple to last for one day, but by a miracle the oil in the lamp burned for eight days.

In the city of Tel Aviv every public building has its own menorah, and each night during Hanukah another candle is lighted until eight of them are burning in every menorah. In addition to the candles, all the lights of the city are left on during the festival. For this reason Tel Aviv is often called the City of Lights.

Boys and girls in Israel especially enjoy this holiday when they hold parties, light candles, play with their tops, and sing songs. Here are the words to one of the songs that children sing during Hanukah:

My mother gave me a levivot *
A warm and sweet levivot
Do you know to honor what?
To honor the Hanukah.
My father gave me a seveevon, **
A seveevon cast out of lead.
Do you know to honor what?
To honor the Hanukah.

Latkes (potato cakes) are a favorite Hanukah treat, and here is an easy latke recipe for you to make:

3 medium potatoes

1/4 teaspoon soda

1 chopped onion

1/4 cup flour

1 egg

oil for deep frying

Seasoning (ginger, nutmeg, salt, and pepper) to taste

Peel potatoes and grate very fine. Sprinkle with soda and squeeze out excess liquid. Mix other ingredients and drop batter by spoonfuls into hot oil, frying until pancakes are crisp on outside. Drain on paper, season, and serve hot.

Purim (Feast of Esther) is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month Adar, or exactly four weeks before Passover. It is held in honor of Esther, a beautiful Jewish queen. Esther was encouraged by her cousin Mordecai to go to her husband the king when his wicked adviser, Haman, had persuaded him to kill all of her people. After fasting and praying, Esther did go before her husband and pled for all of the Jews to be saved. Her desire was granted (See story in Friend, July 1972, p. 32).

On Taanit Esther, the day before Purim, many people fast in remembrance of the fasting of Queen Esther. A little verse boys and girls in Israel learn and recite at this time is:

Mordecai, the Just,
On his horse is riding,
And the wicked Haman
From the tree is hanging.
On Purim Day we send
Nice gifts to each other,
And all the happy children
Dress up in fancy costumes.

A sweet bread called hamanstaschen is usually served in all the homes at the time of Purim.

Pesach (The Passover) is the Jewish festival of freedom. It is held in remembrance of the time when the children of Israel safely left Egypt after they had long been slaves.

The name Passover refers specifically to the tenth plague that God inflicted on Egypt. A destroying angel killed the firstborn in every Egyptian home but passed over the homes of the Israelites where special markings had been made on each door.

The festival of the Passover is sometimes called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because the Israelites hurried to bake unleavened bread before they left Egypt. This bread is called matzah, and it is still baked and eaten today at Passover.

During this time it is forbidden to eat or use any flour, cereal, dried peas, beans, yeast, baking powder, or anything that may have in any way come in contact with chometz (leaven).

Every room in every house and every cooking utensil is specially cleaned before the beginning of Pesach. Just after dark falls on the eve of Passover, the father takes a candle and goes from room to room to make sure that no chometz is left anywhere in his home. This is the beginning of sacred rituals held in all Jewish homes.

Another rule of the Passover is that the firstborn of each family must fast on the eve of Pesach. If the firstborn is under thirteen years of age, the father fasts for the child. Boys and girls have special importance in the rituals, the youngest one present asking why this holy time is celebrated and the others giving the answers. This takes place during the Seder meal, or feast, when the children take part in the Haggadah, or tale of the Pesach.

Children in Israel sing many little songs about Pesach and play games in which they pretend that they are being driven out of Egypt. Here is one song they sing as they play:

Israelites together stand!
We are quitting Egypt’s land.
On our shoulder matzah—
Staves in our hand,
See us onward marching
Out of Egypt’s Land.

Another song the boys and girls in Israel like to sing about this happy holiday is:

Holiday cheer! Holiday cheer!
Spring is coming; Pesach’s near.
Sew in my jacket pockets four
And fill them up with nuts galore.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Phyllis Luch

Show References

  1.   *

    Many kinds of doughnuts and pancakes filled with jam are typical Hanukah recipes. They are called levivot.

  2.   **

    A seveevon is a top with four sides. Each side has a letter. Each letter represents a word and together the words form a sentence about the miracle of the little oil lamp that burned eight days at the altar of the temple.