On Tuesday night as the sun sets and darkness descends, Jews world-wide will call in the light in the form of kindling two candles on a nine limbed candelabrum called a menorah. On the first night, one candle, which is called the shamash (helper)will light the one other and then over the next 7 nights beyond that, consecutively each of the candles will flicker with flame. Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah) commemorates the re-dedication of the second temple in Jerusalem after it was defiled by Greek invaders. A family of warriors known as the Maccabees successfully led a revolution and reclaimed the city. The holiday is not celebrated specifically as a victory over an enemy, but rather in honoring a miracle. When the light in the temple needed to be re-ignited, there was only enough oil to keep it illuminated for one day. A rider was sent forth to find more oil. In his absence, the menorah was kept aflame for 8 days.
On this holiday, which in the Jewish tradition is minor, but is given greater recognition since it is in proximity of Christmas, we light the menorah, sing songs, play with a top called a dreidel, exchange gifts and eat food fried in oil. Our menorah was filled with rainbow colored candles that was placed on a wooden frame my father made so it would go over the sink and be visible in our front window. The glow could be seen from the street warmly greeting passersby in our multi-cultural neighborhood in Willingboro, NJ , should they happen to venture past our house on a cold winter night.
In my childhood home, all of those were annual occurrences. Excitement would mount as for weeks beforehand, my sister and I would sneak peaks at the brightly wrapped packages that my parents hid under their bed. We would help them grate potatoes for the latkes, using a hand grater that, if memory serves, had belonged to my paternal Russian-born Bubbe. The smell would remain in the house for days after the mounds of yummy treats were long gone. One thing I loved about holidays at our house was that all were welcome at the table, regardless of religious persuasion. Many of our non-Jewish friends and theirs would delight in sharing in my parents’ hospitality. My mother, sister and I had such fun making cookies too. Rolling the dough and pressing dreidel and menorah cookie cutters into it and then sprinkling the already sugary delights with colorful ‘jimmies’ and silver and blue sparkles. We also filled a cookie press with a sweet mixture and create floral like treats that lined up on the silver cookie trays, waiting their turn to be baked to perfection….ahhh….I can smell their luscious aroma even as I am typing these words.
Another memory harkens back from second grade where, when the others made Christmas trees, as one of three Jewish kids in the class, I made a popsicle stick Star of David, painted blue with rainbow colored beads glued onto it. I was so proud to give it to my parents and that they hung it in the front window each Hanukkah. I am delighted to say that they kept this present for the rest of their lives and when my Mom died last November, the star was hanging in her bedroom window.
Last week, we continued the tradition by having our annual Latke Party. My son and I made (we’ve stepped up to a food processor to chop the onions and potatoes) what may have been at least 100 of the savory pancakes, served with applesauce or sour cream. Our friends and family indulged with gusto in between laughing, talking and hugging. A few days afterward, both the love and aroma remain as potent reminders that “A Great Miracle Happened There”.
http://youtu.be/3yZ1zxtbOJE Light One Candle by Peter, Paul and Mary