Gingerbread for Hanukkah: DeLight or Diminish?

Last week, five different people wrote me asking if making a gingerbread Hanukkah house might be a welcoming compromise for intermarried families and for those experiencing “Christmas envy.”

Some people even sent me links to articles about the Manischewitz Do-It-Yourself Chanukah House Vanilla Cookie Decorating Kit, whose comment section in Amazon is rife with complaints about the cookies crumbling in transit; an orthodox website with parve gingerbread dreydels; and my personal favorite, Dawn Ogden’s YouTube video on how to make a gingerbread menorah. [Read more…]

Obama: ‘The Light of Hope Must Outlast the Fire of Hate’

— by Bill Leopold

President Obama spoke about the messages of the story of the Maccabees in front of more than 500 people at a Hanukkah party, in a White House full of elaborate, tasteful holiday decorations and exquisitely prepared glatt kosher food:

photo 1

President Obama at the Hanukkah party at the White House. Photo: Jeanne Goldberg-Leopold.

In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose. And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive. But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight. The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

Among the guests at the party were the chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners, Josh Shapiro, and his wife Lori. Mr. Shapiro said that it was a wonderful symbol of the U.S. democracy that the President presided over the Hanukkah party and spoke about our core values of freedom, peace, and equality.

The crowd cheered Obama’s news about Alan Gross, who had just been freed from Cuban prison as part of the country’s renewal of diplomatic relations with the U.S., and loved the President’s solid attempt to speak a few words in Hebrew. The U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra provided the crowd with a tribute to Jewish-American Composers.

photo 2

The menorah built by the students of the Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish Bilingual School in Jerusalem. The text in Hebrew and Arabic enumerates the founding values of the school: community, dignity, equality, peace, education, friendship, solidarity and freedom. (Photo: Bill Leopold)

Obama introduced the makers of the menorah that was lit during the party, by relating the story of the decade-old Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand Arab-Jewish Bilingual School in Jerusalem, in which arsonists set fire to a classroom two weeks ago:

In the weeks that followed, they and their classmates could have succumbed to anger or cynicism, but instead they built this menorah… Each of its branches are dedicated to one of the values their school is founded on—values like community and dignity and equality and peace.

Two students from that school, Inbar Vardi and Mouran Ibrahim, and a parent, lit the candles. The president said that the students are teaching us that, “The light of hope must outlast the fire of hate.”

Alexander the Great’s Hanukkah Treats

photo (10)Who is responsible for the foods we serve for Hanukkah today? The answer might surprise you.

Sephardic Hanukkah specialties, many of which consist of deep fried dough flavored with honey and sesame seeds, all originate from a special honey cake introduced to the Levant by Alexander the Great.

Judea was conquered from the Persians by Alexander in 332 BCE. It was under Greek rule for 191 years, until the Maccabees created the Hasmonean state in Israel in 141 BCE.

The Jews of the upper classes of Judea became Hellenized under Alexander. Josephus explains in his book, The Jewish War, that one of the reasons for the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire in 167 BCE was a civil war between the wealthy, Hellenized Jews of Jerusalem, and the traditionalist Jews of the countryside.

The Hellenized Jews wanted to discard all Jewish traditions, including circumcision, while the traditionalists ferociously guarded their rituals, which ended up sparking a civil war between them. King Antiochus IV Epiphanes sided with the Hellenized Jews, and decided to try to crush the traditionalists.

Antiochus’ prohibitions against practicing Judaism and desecration of the Temple led to the Jewish Revolt, which lasted two years. In 165 BCE the Maccabees were victorious. They cleaned, purified, and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem, and then celebrated the Festival of Lights for eight days. This celebration included feasting, and one of Alexander’s signature treats was on the menu.

What foods did Alexander introduce to Judea?

One ancient Greek recipe that goes back to those days is for honey-sesame fritters. These treats were served at the Greek symposia, “drinking parties.”

Tiganites me meli, “honey cakes,” were believed to absorb alcohol. They remained in the Jewish cuisine in the form of loukoumades, “honey doughnuts,” flavored with sesame seeds, which are served by Sephardic Jews in honor of Hanukkah. Here is the recipe introduced by Alexander.

Honey-Sesame Fritters: Arxaies Tiganites Me Meli K

Adapted from The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger.

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
  • olive oil
  1.  Mix the flour, water, and 1 tablespoon of honey in a bowl.
  2. Heat the olive oil over a medium flame in a heavy frying pan.
  3. Drop a tablespoon of batter into the hot oil.
  4. Flip the pancake over when it is golden-brown.
  5. When both sides have cooked, place the fritters on a serving platter.
  6. Drizzle a tablespoon of honey over them.
  7. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. 

Healthy Hanukkah Pancakes

— by Challah Maidel

Latkes, potato pancakes, are a quintessential traditional Hanukkah food made of shredded potatoes, eggs and bread crumbs or matzo meal.

2013-11-29-12-33-01 Like most people I know, I like my latkes ultra-crunchy, perfectly salty, savory from the onion, lacy at the edges and soft in the middle. Traditionally, latkes are fried in oil, which symbolizes the miraculous Hanukkah story and gives them a crispy exterior texture.

I do not particularly fancy anything fried, though. I will indulge myself from time to time, but am not too enthusiastic about the mess and hassle that comes with frying, not to mention the emotional heartache that comes along with it. Oven-baked potato pancakes are a safer, healthier and less hassle alternative for me.

If you are looking for a traditional potato pancake recipe, you are out of luck: All I have for you is a multi-vegetable pancake recipe, which seems more exciting to me. Plus, people seldom complain about eating too many vegetables, and a couple extra never hurt anyone. Carrots and zucchini balance out the starchiness from the potatoes, which is why I included them. A dollop of low-fat sour cream, applesauce and smoked salmon adds a nice finishing touch.

Ingredients for about 24 medium-sized pancakes:

  • 3 red potatoes, peeled and grated
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 zucchinis, grated
  • 1 onion, peeled and grated
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup of matzo meal or bread crumbs (use gluten-free bread crumbs for a gluten-free version)
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
  • Salt and pepper for taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. After grating the vegetables, drain excess water using paper towels.
  3. Transfer to a shallow bowl.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
  5. Drop mixture by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. (For mini-latkes, use a teaspoon.)
  6. Flatten with back of spoon, slightly, so that latkes will be cooked through.
  7. Brush each patty with oil or spray with cooking spray.
  8. Bake uncovered for about 10 minutes. Bottoms should be browned and crisp.
  9. Turn latkes over and bake for 8-10 more minutes. If you are worried about browning on the second side, give pan another “brushing” with a thin coat of oil, and then lay latkes back down. Keep an eye on the latkes as they bake to avoid overcooking.
  10. Serve right away, or store covered to reheat the next day at 350°F for 10-15 minutes.

Challah Maidel blogs about healthy kosher eating.

Knesset Speaker Lights Chanukah Candles with IDF Lone Soldiers

— by Rebecca Modell

Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein participated in a special Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony for the sixth night of Hanukkah, together with several Cabinet Ministers and Members of Knesset. The ceremony was also attended by 60 Lone Soldiers, arranged by Nefesh B’Nefesh, Friends of the IDF (FIDF), Tzofim Garin Tzabar, and Ha’aguda Lema’an Hachayal (The Association for the Welfare of Soldiers).

Photo Credit: Peter Halmagyi.

More after the jump.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said:

I’m happy and thrilled to be here to continue the tradition of lighting Chanukah candles in the Knesset. The lighting of the candles symbolizes the freedom of the people of Israel, and is especially relevant here in the Knesset because we have our own parliament, and despite all the disagreements that take place in it, we have the freedom to govern ourselves.

Five Lone Soldiers joined Edelstein as he lit the Chanukah candles. The soldiers, who are originally from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, France, Japan, and Uruguay made Aliyah to Israel to join the IDF with the support of Nefesh B’Nefesh and the FIDF.

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, said at the ceremony,

We are honored to have the Knesset Speaker light the Chanukah candles with these Lone Soldiers, in this symbolic salute to all those who left their families and homes in order to make Aliyah and serve the Jewish State through the Nefesh B’Nefesh/FIDF Lone Soldiers program.

Hanukkah Comes To Philadelphia (and DC)

Mayor Michael Nutter joined the festivities as enormous Hanukkah Menorahs were lit at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and on Independence Mall. The Philadelphia Lubavitcher Center says the Menorah on Independence Mall is the largest menorah in the world.

Happy Hanukkah.

Photo of the Mayor Nutter and the 30th Street Station Menorah by Gabrielle Loeb.

Videos of the National Menorah lighting near the White House follow the jump.

Next Thanksgivukkah in 80K Years? Wrong!

The upcoming convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving is not quite as rare as some have claimed.

Some of our older readers have already celebrated Hanukkah on Thanksgiving, and our younger readers may do so again, despite widespread Internet hoaxes claiming this has never happened before, or that it will not do so for 79,811 years:

Thursday,
November 29,
1888
 2nd Night 
Thursday,
November 30,
1899
 5th Night 
Thursday,
November 28,
1918
 1st Night 
Thursday,
November 29,
1945*
 1st Night 
Thursday,
November 29,
1956*
 2nd Night 
Thursday,
November 28,
2013
 2nd Night 
Thursday,
November 27,
2070
 1st Night 
Thursday,
November 28,
2165
 1st Night 


Fact-checking is very important.

So what has made this fallacy viral, and how does it happen that there were also times in years gone-by with convergences as well?

Some of the fallacy impact came from an article in the Boston Globe which reported a “calculation” that Thanksgivukkah “won’t repeat for another 79,043 years.” They also reported:

The magic struck last November, when Dana Gitell, a marketing specialist at NewBridge on the Charles, a Dedham retirement community, was driving to work.

She knew the holidays were going to overlap this year “because I had seen a list of holiday dates on the back of a Combined Jewish Philanthropies calendar,” recalled Gitell, the wife of Seth Gitell, a former Menino press secretary now working for House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo.

She was mentally running through a list of clunky names for the phenomenon — Hanukkahgiving? — when the more melodious Thanksgivukkah came to her.

Gitell, her sister-in-law, and a friend — an artist with New Yorker covers in her portfolio — promptly designed Thanksgivukkah illustrations and contacted ModernTribe.com, a hip Judaica site. Together, they created products including cards and a $36 T-shirt that reads “Thanksgivukkah 2013: 8 Days of Light Liberty & Latkes.”

An article in Haaretz noted that she did not have permission to use the image she chose and received a cease and desist order on October 5.

More after the jump.
Mathematicians disagree about recurrence dates on their websites, so it does take work to arrive at what seems to be a truly accurate answer. The most helpful site seems to be of the three Lansey brothers, whose blog with correct information was already online in 2012!

These three brothers did historical research on past dates of Thanksgiving, and posted the years listed in the table above when Thanksgiving and Hanukkah overlapped. The years 1945 and 1956 are marked with an asterisk because those were only Thanksgiving in certain states that maintained the date for Thanksgiving adopted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (and mocked as Franksgiving). That date was nullified in 1941 by an act of congress settling it into the 4th Thursday.

The creator of the Intel 8086 chip, Steven P. Morse, pointed the convergence out on his website back in in 2012, although he did not adjust for the historical differences in the dates of Thanksgiving in years gone-by. He further explains the solar/lunar calendar drift issues involved:

Chanukah-before-Thanksgiving occurred in the past, and with decreasing frequency as time went on, is because there is a slow drift between the Hebrew Calendar and the secular (Gregorian) calendar. That drift amounts to one day every 217 years. So in about 80,000 years it will drift by one full year and we’ll be back to where we started.  At that time we will once again be lighting Chanukah candles at our Thanksgiving dinner.

Jonathan Mizrahi nicely illustrated this drift in the Hebrew calendar:

Understanding the Jewish calendar would require a further article because it is not a strictly lunar calendar. And — this may come as a surprise to some — the Jewish calendar begins with Passover, the original Jewish New Year according to the Torah which requires Passover to occur in the Spring. Originally ensuring the proper alignment of dates and seasons was accomplished through observation-based adjustments:

… when the fruit had not grown properly, when the winter rains had not stopped, when the roads for Passover pilgrims had not dried up, and when the young pigeons had not become fledged. The council on intercalculation considered the astronomical facts together with the religious requirements of Passover and the natural conditions of the country. — Comprehensive Hebrew Calendar, p. 1-2.

But then, in the fourth century, according to Judaism 101:  

Hillel II established a fixed calendar based on mathematical and astronomical calculations. This calendar, still in use, standardized the length of months and the addition of months over the course of a 19 year cycle, so that the lunar calendar realigns with the solar years. Adar I is added in the 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th, 14th, 17th and 19th years of the cycle. The current cycle began in Jewish year 5758 (the year that began October 2, 1997).

If you are musically inclined, you may find it helpful to remember this pattern of leap years by reference to the major scale: for each whole step there are two regular years and a leap year; for each half-step there is one regular year and a leap year. This is easier to understand when you examine the keyboard illustration below and see how it relates to the leap years above.

It’s nice to note that some of the children alive today will be here for the next Thanksgiving-Hanukkah convergence. May it be so!

Addendum: There are some who wrote well-publicized articles that overlooked the evening overlap of these festivals. Jewish holidays start at sundown and secular holidays start at sunrise. They wrote their articles declaring a never-to-be-repeated event by disregarding the almost 8 hours of convergence the evening before. Which to my mind is odd for Jewish writers to do, given we know that the evening rituals and meals of both Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are the spiritual main events. For Jews, given that sundown is approximately 4:19 pm, we will be lighting our menorahs and then eating our latke-stuffed turkey dinners (or whatever fusions evolve over time) there-after. Evening convergences have happened in the past, and will continue to do, as the table at the article’s beginning demonstrates.

Chag Sameach from Rabbi Goldie Milgram

Thanksgivukkah Pie: Don McLean, the Jewish Version

A hilarious and catchy musical tribute to Hanukkah and Thanksgiving by Benji Lovitt. (Follow Benji on Twitter and Facebook.)

Editing: Victor Paru.
Filming and Vocal Recording: Yosef Adest.

Happy holidays!

Lyrics follow the jump — sing along!
Lyrics (including bonus verse which didn’t make the final cut):

A long, long time ago,
I can still remember how that oil used to last a while.
And I knew if it made it eight.
Then Jews would get to celebrate
And then we’d be rejoicing with a smile.

But this year’s just unprecedented.
A holiday that’s so demented.
Chanukkah plus turkey.
It doesn’t get more quirky.

I can’t remember if I cried
From Jewish and American pride.
My apple pie is extra fried.
The day the chags collide.

CHORUS:
So try my new Thanksgivukkah pie.
It’s delicious, not nutritious, and it’s so good you’ll cry.
Like soofganyot, it is super deep-fried.
So don’t eat more than one or you’ll die, don’t eat more than one or you’ll die.

Would you like some pumpkin pie
Topped with chocolate gelt stacked really high
Cause your bubbe baked the dough
Or latkes topped with cranberry
And mashed potatoes with sour cream.
We remember stories from so long ago.

Now I know that you love Maccabees
But save some room for mac and cheese.
The football game’s tonight.
We can watch by candlelight, oooh.

So wontcha sit right back, kick off your shoes
Cause it’s happy times for US Jews.
So tell your friends and spread the news.
The day the chags collide.

CHORUS:
So try my new Thanksgivukkah pie.
It’s delicious, not nutritious, and it’s so good you’ll cry.
Like soofganyot, it is super deep-fried.
So don’t eat more than one or you’ll die, don’t eat more than one or you’ll die.

Now the Pilgrims stood up to the Greeks
And the Maccabees threw such a feast
Or maybe I mixed up my facts.

When we eat the dreidel, it gobbles loud
And we spin the turkey which wobbles proud.
I think I’ve lost my mind, got to relax.

Let’s appreciate this special day
With the Macy’s Hanukkah Parade.
The floats are on the go.
Nes gadol haya po….SHAAAAAM!

So gather round with all your friends.
Sing Maoz Tzur until the end.
And stuff yourself, I recommend.
The day the chags collide.

Sephardic Hanukkah: A Dairy Celebration of Daughters

Judith kills General Holofernes. Painting by Vincenzo Catena.

— by Ronit Treatman

The story of Hanukkah is often portrayed with images of brave, muscular male warriors, such as:

There were Greek-Syrian soldiers, fighting on behalf of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The Greek-Syrians looked fearsome in their armor, and heavy metal swords as they deployed their weapon of mass destruction, the war elephant. The Maccabee men fought back, using homemade slings and maces, and guerrilla tactics.

The Maccabees were victorious after seven years, and Hanukkah is the celebration of this victory. Hanukkah means “dedication”: The Second Temple in Jerusalem was purified and rededicated once the revolt was over.

However, it is acknowledged that the Maccabee victory would not have been possible without the support of the brave Jewish women. It is the tradition in parts of the Sephardic world that the seventh day of Hanukkah is reserved especially to celebrate the women and girls of the community.

Sambusak recipe after the jump.
Hannah (Second Book of Maccabees 7:1-41) is honored for losing her seven sons, and her own life, for not worshiping King Antiochus’ idols.

In some Sephardic communities, the seventh night of Hanukkah is called chag habanot (festival of the daughters). On this night, women get exclusive use of the synagogues to study Torah, bless their daughters, and celebrate. The men take care of the children, and prepare dairy treats for the women.


Sambusak.

It is customary to eat dairy foods because of the heroism of Judith. Judith was a beautiful young widow, who lived during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar (400 years before the time of the Maccabees). She caught the eye of General Holofernes, who had been dispatched to besiege the fictitious city of Bethulia (probably Jerusalem).

When Holofernes tried to seduce her, she plied him with salty cheeses and wine. He became so inebriated that he fell into a deep sleep.  Seizing this opportunity, Judith cut his head off with his own sword.  

When she displayed the severed head to Holofernes’s soldiers, They were so terrified that they fled, ending the siege. Over time, Judith was believed to be an ancestor of the Maccabees, and this narrative was associated with Hanukkah.  

Sephardic men pamper the women during chag habanot by preparing a special dish called Sambusak.  

Sambusak is a type of hand pie, which originated in Persia. It is made of pastry or yeast dough, filled with a combination of several types of cheese, some of them very sharp. These flavorful cheeses are a reminder of General Holoferne’s weakness, skillfully exploited by Judith.  To save time, many cooks use frozen puff pastry.

Below is a recipe from the Jewish community of Baghdad.

Sambusak B-Jibbin (Cheese Sambusak)
Adapted from Mrs. Lamaan Heardoon

For the dough:

  • 3 1/3 cups of unbleached flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons quick-acting dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  1. In a bowl, place the water, yeast, and sugar. Mix well, then let rest for 15 minutes.  
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients, and knead the dough.
  3. Cover the bowl with a clean towel, and place in warm spot. Allow the dough to rise for 3 hours.

For the filling:

  • 1 cup grated feta, kashkaval, kasseri, or parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup cottage cheese
  • ground white pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.  

Assembly:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Pull off a walnut-sized piece of dough. Roll it out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface.
  • Place a teaspoon of filling at the center of the rolled-out dough.  
  • Fold the dough over into the shape of a half moon. Pinch the edges shut.
  • Place on a cookie sheet covered with a piece of parchment paper. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden-brown.