Hanukkah: A Story of Heroes and a Celebration of Freedom
This article was written by Ariel Hindle
Winter can be a dreary, long season for most people. Thankfully a delightful way to brighten up the long, cold season is to celebrate the festival of lights, also known as Hanukkah. As a Jewish woman, raised in a Jewish home, I grew up celebrating this exciting, yummy holiday. Hanukkah is a holiday that lasts for eight days and is based on a heroic, historic event. It takes place between the months of November and December.
In Judaism we follow the lunar cycle, so every year we find our holidays landing on different days, weeks or even months! Hanukkah is a time to eat delicious fried foods, give gifts and light the hanukkiah. This year Hanukkah will be starting on November 28th at sunset and ending on December 6th at sunset, it usually falls closer to Christmas time.
Hanukkah is the celebration of how Jews (once again) overcame persecution by gathering the Maccabean army to defeat the Greeks. Around the 2nd century BCE the Greek-syrians were occupying the land of Israel. During this time, Israel was under the rule of a tyrannical man named Antiochus. He banned all Jewish practice and destroyed the Jewish temple. The Jews were stripped of their identities by being forced to eat pork (an unkosher food), and offer vile sacrifices to the Greek gods. The Jewish people were no longer allowed to study the Torah lest they face death. Some Jews, however, were brave enough to continue studying and teaching Torah in secret.
After many years of persecution, courageously the five sons of a man named Matityahu formed an army of Jewish men to stand up to the Greeks' tyranny. The army was named after the eldest brother Judah, he had muscle like steel and was called Judah the Maccabee, maccab means a hammer in Hebrew. The Maccabean Army defeated the Greeks in battle after battle until they relinquished Israel from Greek rule. The Jews were able to come back to the holy city of Jerusalem and rededicate the temple. Inside the temple were many important treasures, but most importantly there was the menorah. After rededicating the temple the kohen gadol ( the high priest) would light the menorah. Unfortunately, only pure, untainted olive oil in a sealed tight jar could be used. The process to make the kosher oil for the temple’s menorah was long and arduous. After years of war and Greek rule, there was only enough pure oil to burn for one night. The nearest place to get this special oil, at the time, was an eight day trip by horse. The miracle of Hanukkah is that after they lit the small amount of oil they had, the light of the menorah burned for eight days.
In modern times, Jewish families, like my own, celebrate Hanukkah by eating homemade meals cooked in oil. Two of the significant Hannukah dishes include Latkes, which are potato pancakes, usually topped with applesauce or sourcream. Soufganiot (pronounced Soof-GAH-NEE-yote) is a fried doughnut stuffed with jelly and topped with powdered sugar. The reason for the tradition of eating food cooked in oil is to remember the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days at the temple and to celebrate victory over our enemies.
Traditionally gelt (Yiddish for money) was a gift given during Hanukkah from parents to teachers or to children as a reward for studying Torah. Today, gelt comes in the form of a chocolate coin wrapped in gold tin foil and is used to play Dreidel. Dreidel is a game played on Hanukkah by using a top-like toy that has the Hebrew letters shin, hay (or chai), nun, and gimel on each side. It is said that the dreidel dates back to the Greek-Syrian reign, when the jews were hiding while studying Torah, they used the dreidel to make it look like they were playing a game if they were spotted by a Greek soldier.
The menorah talked about in the story of Hanukkah was part of the temple ceremony and is a seven branched candelabra. When Hanukkah became a holiday, Jews started using a hanukiah which is a nine branched candelabra, one candle stick sits higher than the rest, called the shamash, or “helper”, this is used only to light the other candles, and is blown out after its “help”. The nine branched hanukiah became a symbol to remember the eight day miracle.
My family's traditions during the eight days of Hanukkah are to sit down as a family and eat one or all of these dishes together, say the blessings and light the hanukiah. We always invite guests over to share the story and traditions of Hanukkah. There are sure to be gifts to open as well!
This year I am especially looking forward to making soufganiot with my mother! I love trying new fillings and finding new methods of frying them. Growing up, winter time was not my favorite season, but I always looked forward to decorating the house with my mother and sisters, warming our home with all the cooking in the kitchen and lighting the hanukiah. It is a warm, heartfelt tradition that I plan on carrying on with my family so we too, can keep making bright memories each holiday season.
If you're looking to celebrate the festival of lights this year through food, here are my family's recipes below!
6 potatoes, scrubs and peeled
½ cup flour
1 onion peeled
Grind onion, set aside. Grind potatoes; rinse in cold water until clear, then drain. In a medium
bowl mix potatoes, onion, eggs and flour with salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat in a skillet with vegetable oil about 5 minutes each side or until golden brown and a little crispy.
Makes about 6 pancakes
Top with sour cream, apple sauce, or maple syrup
½ cup of warm water
5 teaspoons dry yeast
⅓ cup plus a pinch of sugar
1 cup of milk or water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅓ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoons salt
4 ½ - 5 cups all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil for frying
2 cups jam or jelly of your choice, at room temp. Or try chocolate or custard! powdered sugar for dusting
In a large mixing bowl combine warm water and yeast, stir with a pinch of sugar. Allow the mixture to stand a few minutes to let the yeast active, it should swell or dissolve. Stir in remaining sugar along with the vanilla, eggs, oil, salt and most of the flour to make soft dough.
Knead for 5-8 minutes, adding more flour as needed to form a firmer dough that is smooth and elastic (and doesn't stick to surfaces or hands). Place the kneaded dough into a greased bowl, seal it with a plastic bag. After an hour the dough should have risen, gently deflate.
Next, pinch pieces of dough off to form balls, a little larger than a golf ball. Or you can roll the dough out to about ¾ inch thick and use a 2 ½ - 3 inch biscuit cutter to cut out rounds. Cover the dough balls with a clean tea towel and let them sit for 20 minutes. Heat up 4 inches of oil in a deep fryer or heavy Dutch oven to about 385º F. Add the doughnuts 3 or 4 at a time to the hot oil and fry until the undersides are a deep brown. Turn over and finish frying the other side. The total frying time will be around 1 ½ - 3 minutes. Lift the doughnut out with a slotted spoon and drain the well on paper towels. To fill make a small opening and spoon in the jam or jelly.