The Beginner's Guide to Hanukkah in Italy

Wed, 12/21/2016 - 03:07

What is Hanukkah?

It's a Jewish festival that lasts for eight days in December. It's a festival that marks the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC. Having been desecrated by the Syrians, the 165 BC rededication occurred thanks to the Maccabees. The Hebrew word, Chanukah actually means 'Dedication'.

Is it known by any other names?

Yes, the Festival of Lights. To tie in with the festival, a nine-branch candle holder is lit every year. The candle holder is called the Menorah, and each night, a candle is lit over the eight days. The ninth candle oversees the others and is known as the Shamash, functioning as a flame that lights the eight.

When does Hanukkah fall this year?

From the night of 24th December to New Year's Day 2017.

When was the earliest mention of the Jewish people in Italy?

This can be traced back to 160 BC when the first Jews arrived in Rome. They had fled historic Israel from the Syrian King Antiochus. Having arrived in Rome, this was to be known as the oldest Jewish settlements in the Western European area.

In 1555, the Jews were forced into a ghetto which is situated on the other side of the Tiber. For a period of more than 300 years, around 13,000 Jewish people lived here. In this area, many buildings and businesses were founded, such as shops, restaurants, and a synagogue.

How does Rome celebrates Hanukkah?

The centrepiece of the Hanukkah celebrations in Rome happens at Piazza Barberini where a massive Menovah is lighted. The Menovah stands at 20 feet tall, and this year promises to be another spectacular celebration.

Other celebrations are taking place at locations such as Piazza Bologna and also the fountain at Piazza Mattei.

If you're in the region of Rome, it's also worth paying a visit to the Arch of Titus, which was built in AD 81. On the arch, you can make out a procession in the wake of the raid on the Temple of Solomon. Over the heads of the Romans is the unmistakeable depiction of a Menorah.

What other celebrations are taking place in Italy for Hanukkah?

There is the lighting of another impressive and large-scale Menorah in Milan's Piazza San Carlo.

Any other notable Menorah lightings?

Yes – in Florence's well-known synagogue. It's a focal point for Florence's Hanukkah celebrations. Tempio Maggiore is a famous synagogue that was constructed between the years 1874 and 1882. With its notable interior of bronze and wood, and its mosaics and marble floors, it's one of the most sumptuous of its kind.

The Jewish Museum on Via dei Giudei is also well worth a look.

How many well known synagogues are in Venice?

Yes, five of them are intact and remain places of worship to this day. The Levantine Synagogue is another example of sumptuous design with its gold and red interior.

In addition to five synagogues, Venice's Ghetto Square includes its own Jewish Cemetery and Jewish Museum. The Ghetto Square is where it's all happening for the Hanukkah celebrations. Following the lighting of the Menorah, there will be all sorts of festivities such as music, dancing and food.

What traditional food is eaten in Italy at Hanukkah?

A common tradition is fried food – fried in its own special way, and created to give a unique but tasty eating experience at Hanukkah time. Pollo Fritto per Chanuka is a hearty meal of chicken fried with a winning combination of ingredients. The chicken is marinated in a mix of olive oil with lemon juice, garlic and nutmeg. After the chicken has been marinated, it is then covered in flour and egg before it's fried to make a crispy but moist dish.

A good accompaniment to the fried chicken is Fritelle di Patate, which is fried mashed potato pancakes. The mash is seasoned to add that extra flavour before receiving a smattering of coated breadcrumbs to add to that fried kick.

Rome is known for its Carciofi alla Giudia (artichokes), and also for Melanzane alla Giudia. This dish is fried eggplant – simple to make, and delicious to eat, the eggplant's seeds and majority of flesh are removed before being fried in a combination of garlic and olive oil.

What's for pudding?

In keeping with the fried theme, Fritelle de Chanuka is a big hit for Italians to eat at Hanukkah. This dessert is basically fried sweet dough fritters. The dough is mixed in with raisins and anise seeds. It's then fried and topped off with hot honey.

Another favourite dessert is Torta di Ricotta, which is Ricotta Pie filled with either sour cherries and/or chocolate. If you're celebrating Hanukkah at home with friends or family, then you won't go wrong with these traditional dishes.

Happy Hanukkah!


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