Hanukkah feast emphasizes the festive, the fried, the miraculous

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 16, 2009

The congregation at Temple Beth Shalom has been perfecting the latke recipe for 15 years or longer, depending on whom you ask.

The recipe for the fried potato pancake, cooked each year in observance of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, is handwritten on a piece of notebook paper that’s been laminated and taped to the temple’s kitchen wall.

“Every once in a while we’ll tweak it,” said Ethel Grossman, 74.

On Tuesday, Grossman and a few other volunteers labored over the 100 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds of onions, and seven dozen eggs needed to make enough fried pancakes for temple’s family dinner celebration on the fifth night of Hanukkah.

In addition to the latke feast, the Jewish families lit the fifth candle on the temple menorah or on their own menorahs, brought from home.

The temple’s feast is an annual event, sponsored this year by local members of a global Zionist women’s group, Hadassah. The group supports medical and educational causes in Israel.

“It’s a time for the community to come together,” congregation member Suzanne Rubens said.

Hanukkah, which began Friday at sundown, commemorates the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, after its desecration by the Syrian Greeks around 164 B.C. According to tradition, after reclaiming the temple, a family known as the Maccabees tried to rekindle the Temple candelabra, or menorah, and found only one day’s worth of oil. But the oil lasted for eight days.

To celebrate the miracle, families light a candle each night for eight nights. They also eat food fried in oil in observance of Hanukkah, which in Hebrew means “dedication.” Other fried Hanukkah favorites include jelly doughnuts.

Many foods associated with Jewish celebrations come from the places where the Jewish families originated, members said.

“In Europe, the Jewish peasants didn’t have much, but they wanted to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah,” Grossman said. So they dug up onions and potatoes and fried them in oil.

According to congregation members, Hanukkah is the least important Jewish holiday.

But “it’s definitely the most festive,” said Amalia Williams, 17, who enjoyed latkes Tuesday with her friend Molly Rubens, 14. That’s partially because presents are given, the girls said. Some families give gifts each night of the festival, while others do so only on the first night.

“It’s just more fun than the others,” Rubens said. “It is a celebration of a miracle.”

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