You Need to Know About North Africa’s Feminist Hanukkah Tradition
When it comes to celebrating Hanukkah, you probably think about lighting the menorah, playing dreidel (or maybe not, does anyone actually play dreidel?), and eating so many latkes that your stomach burns in sweet agony. But did you know that there’s a special Hanukkah tradition — Eid Al Bnat (The Festival of Daughters in Judeo-Arabic) or Chag HaBanot (in Hebrew) — that women and girls from North Africa’s Jewish communities have been celebrating for centuries?
In Jerusalem this year, I joined a group of women of Middle Eastern and North African backgrounds who gather regularly to study their heritage with an organization called Arevot, and we held an inspiring Eid Al Bnat celebration, with a focus on how to bring it back into our own communities.
This year, the celebration officially falls on the evening of Friday, December 27 and goes through Sunday December 29 (thanks, complicated Lunar calendars!). It’s a beautiful tradition that more people should know about, so let me break it down:
Origins of the Holiday
Celebrated on the Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) of Tevet (one of the Hebrew months where Hanukkah takes place) in communities in North Africa and elsewhere, particularly the islands of Djerba and Tunis in Tunisia, Algeria, Salonika in Greece, and Kushta (Istanbul) in Turkey, this day is filled with historic connections to powerful Jewish women. The festival takes the form of ceremonial gatherings featuring symbolic rituals, delicious treats, and traditional songs, all focusing on bringing together generations of mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters, and the extended community.