Every year, I spend a few weeks drooling over boxes of fancy-schmancy Hanukkah candles – you know, the beautiful beeswax, hand-dipped kind that don’t look like fruit-flavored twizzlers. I ruminate for a good long time over whether or not to spend $10-$15 on each box of candles. Then, before I know it, it’s about five minutes before Hanukkah starts, and I’m forced run over to the supermarket and buy the fifty cent variety. With at least 5 broken candles per box guaranteed. So much for hiddur mitzvah.
This year, a children’s book reminded me of another beautiful, and perhaps even better, way to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the chanukkiyah. Harvest of Light, a non-fiction book by Allison Ofanasky, tells the story of how olive oil is made, as it follows one Israeli family from olive harvest to the Hanukkah table, explaining the process with simple language and beautiful photographs. What I love about the book is that it explains an important question raised, but rarely answered, by the original Hanukkah story. Why did that small flask of oil have to last for eight days? Why would it take so darn long to squeeze little oil from some olives? Now, we know.
The book also reminded me that while oil is arguably the central symbol of the holiday, it usually plays a fairly limited role in our observance, as a medium for frying latkes and doughnuts. I don’t know about you, but when I’m eating fried foods, the miracle of Hanukkah is not foremost in my mind – it’s somewhere far behind clean-up, calories, and yum (but not Yum-o.)So, this year I’m determined to make our celebration a little more olive-oily.
Tonight, the first night of Hanukkah, falls on Erev Shabbat, which means that the menorah should be lit early and last longer. The perfect opportunity to light an olive oil menorah. Tonight, we’re filling two shot glasses with water, olive oil and floating wicks, and lighting a menorah that will, I hope, actually remind us of the lamp in the Beit Hamikdash. Plus, I don’t need to run to the store, because we always, always, have plenty of olive oil in the house. (Pictures to follow!)
To further the mitzvah of “publicizing the miracle” I’ve also decided to buy bottles of gourmet olive oil as Hanukkah gifts for the adults who are celebrating with us this year. To that end, I’ve asked my brother, professional writer and non-professional foodie, to write a guest post on fine olive oils. (Not, mind you, F-I-N-E-E-V-O-O.) I’ll post it later today, because, you know, I’m late to work.