In the Sleeping Car with Ten Hand-puppets and a Travel Hanukkah Candelabrum

A puppet in a blue shirt with the star of David, in front of a crate of Berliner hotcakes with a speech bubble, “Oooh, my oh my! Hotcakes for free!!! Hahahaaaa! Happy Hanukkaaaah!”

One of the hand puppets from Shlomit Tulgan’s bubales family saying “Oooh, my oh my! Hotcakes for free!!!”
CC-BY Shlomit Tulgan

I was asked recently if I could write something about how I celebrate Hanukkah in my own circle of family and friends. It occurred to me that the last time I spent Hanukkah with friends or with my parents was quite awhile back. I rummaged around through old photos until I found a picture of me with my father in 1988, lighting our Hanukkah candelabrum: we had just applied for political asylum in West Berlin and were allowed to stay with friends, so we didn’t have to remain longer in refugee quarters. For me back then, Hanukkah was a personal, family thing.

A young woman holding a candle on a candlestick; next to her, a man with a kippah.

Shlomit Tulgan with her father at a Hanukkah celebration in 1988, photo: private.

Today it’s still a family thing, but the family looks a little different. My family consists of about 25 mouth-moving hand puppets that I call “the bubales.” I’ve been touring through Germany and Austria with the bubales – Jewish puppet theater – on my Hanukkah vacation days since 2010, letting ten of the puppets tell the story of the Jewish Festival of Lights.

Our audiences are a colorful mix: the bubales don’t just perform for Jewish congregations. They’ve been invited to churches, mosques, and other cultural centers, where they share their infectious love of Hanukkah.

Eight colorful, mouth-moving hand puppets lying in a circle with their heads to the center, laughing at the onlookers.

CC-BY Shlomit Tulgan

The story is also multi-cultural. The hero Shlomo lives in the Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg and gets a magic lamp from Istanbul as a Hanukkah present from his classmate Aische. No sooner does he have it but three droll Hanukkah spirits spring from the lamp to tell the story of the temple in ancient Jerusalem. At the end, the lamp reveals a secret that puts everything in a new light. Grown-ups enjoy the comedy as well as children. The show also has a musical accompaniment provided by a rocking choir of candles, latke-frying Papa Lotterstein, a hyperactive dreidel, and a humorless sheep called Mendel.

In a sleeping car on the train, a metal suitcase covered by a meal on plastic and aluminum plates, next to it a candelabrum with eight lit candles.

A festive Hanukkah celebration in the sleeping car.
CC-BY Shlomit Tulgan

The bubales make an appearance in a different city nearly every day. They’re practically the Deutsche Bahn’s Hanukkah Express. I’ve spent many a night of Hanukkah nestled against the window of yet another train’s sleeping car, looking forward every year to my own private cabin. Well, I’m not really on my own, but the puppets stay pretty quiet in their crate. I always bring my favorite Indian dish, palak panir, with me onto the train, lay out the ceremonial meal on my suitcase, light my travel Hanukkah candelabrum, and enjoy – as you can see from the picture – this festive moment of solitary travel. The solitariness doesn’t last for long, however. At each station I’m awaited by the shining eyes of a new group of children and parents. And when I hear the ringing laughter of the audience beyond my puppet stage, I know that for me there simply couldn’t be a better Hanukkah.

Shlomit Tulgan studied art pedagogy and as an employee of the Jewish Museum Berlin she generates children, family, and holiday programming for our education department. In her free time, she pursues her passion for puppetry with the bubales.

PS: If you’re in Berlin and free on 10 December 2015 at 5.30 pm, you will have the chance both to get to know the Fraenkelufer Synagogue in Kreuzberg as well as to see “Shlomo’s Magic Hanukkah Lamp.” Reservations at:

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