The best donut you will ever have isn’t a donut at all. Traditionally, a few weeks before Chanukah begins, Israelis stroll down to their local Roladin with the fervor of SoCal foodies with a new obsession. Roladin is a pastry shop about equivalent to Corner Bakery—it’s a national chain with a shop in most major cities, but there are other, similar options. However, at Roladin, and only Roladin, you find about a dozen different incredible concoctions known as the Chanukah sufganiot. It is similar to a donut in that it is a fried ball of dough. But Roladin sufganiot are filled with anything from crème brûlée custard (complete with a small, delicate glass pane of sugar atop the pastry) to Belgian chocolate. Roladin has dubbed this timeSufganiot Season, and the entire country looks forward to it.
This year, however, we experienced our version of the “Christmas creep.” Whereas Americans may buy candy canes or peppermint bark earlier each year, Israelis in major cities could already pick up one of the basic famous sufganiot as early as mid-September. Four months early. The High Holidays hadn’t begun! Twitter and social media outlets were abuzz with both approvals and censures. This “Chanukah creep,” some argued, was only due to Roladin’s desire to increase revenue. Well, yes, I imagine so. It is, after all, a business. However, the bakery didn’t entirely disregard the sanctity of its pastries. It waited until November to release sufganiot in all branches and saved the fancier flavors—which come with little plastic pipettes of extra filling—for the holiday season itself. I imagine the underlying frustration with making any available early lies mainly with the idea that Chanukah is a special time of year, and we should preserve it.
As with any other Jewish holiday, Chanukah has a different feel here in Israel. It’s not what you’re doing at home, in your private life. It’s a public festival that allows for a bit of time off work, evenings with extended family, and a general sense of cheer in the street. Coming together with family and friends means warm drinks and fried foods, a sense of belonging. Even a game of dreidel reinforces the idea that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be, as the letters carved into the surface tell a different story than those elsewhere. An Israeli dreidel has letters that stand for “nes gadol ha’ya po”—a great miracle happened here.
Merav Ceren was born in Israel, grew up in Southern California, and has now returned home. She holds a B.A. in International Relations from UCI, where she led the re-establishment of Anteaters for Israel, and is pursuing her Master’s in International Relations from Syracuse University.