Olive oil, a traditional part of Hanukkah rituals, overflowed during the Israeli festival’s eight-day run which commenced last week.
Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the 2nd century B.C. revolt of the Maccabees. One of the most important rituals of the festival celebrates the miracle of the flask of olive oil that was supposed to only last for one day but burned for eight. The miracle is celebrated through the lighting of a menorah (eight-branched candelabra).
This year, olive oil was abundant for the festival. Grocery stores around the country sold jumbo 5‑litre bottles for about 200 Israeli new shekels ($US 56). Bottles of olive oil were made available near the cash registers of pharmacies as impulse items.
Golan Heights, which produces some of the best wines in the country, also has a climate that is beneficial for olive cultivation. Eretz Gshur, one of the brands that have set up shop in Golan Heights, has benefited from the proximity with wine producers. In an interview with Lubavitch.com, Ehud Soriano, Eretz Gshur’s marketing manager, said, “You can cut and paste a lot of vineyard knowledge to growing olives for oil.”
The company, which cold presses its olive oil according to variety, produced 80 of the 16,000 tons of olive oil consumed in the country last year. Eretz Gshur has benefited from knowledge provided by Prof. Shimon Lavee, a researcher from the Agricultural Research Organization. Lavee cultivated the Barnea olive, one of the varieties grown by the company. The Barnea, which is now grown worldwide, is a mild and quick-growing variety of olive which yields oil easily and can be harvested mechanically.
In an interview with Lubavitch.com, Daniel Esses, a manager for olive oil producer Halutza, said that this year’s unusually dry weather has led to good conditions for harvesting ripening olives. “Heat is the issue now,” he said.
In spite of its immediate positive effects, lack of rain may diminish next year’s harvest. But that’s a problem for the future. This year at the Festival of Lights olive oil flowed freely.