Hanukkah 2017 blog: Latke fry-off and more

As I write this 2017 Hanukkah blog, the first snow of the season has skimmed the porch with white. I realize that all the serious stuff I want to say about Hanukkah, I wrote in last year’s blog, with links to various other thoughtful writings.

 

 

Here’s an annotated schedule for the rest of 2017:

This Saturday, December 9, is our Human Rights Shabbat, focusing on the light we bring through our activism. Rabbi Ora has invited our members to signup to speak for no more that 4 minutes each. Please read about it here and sign up here. There will be childcare!

Sunday December 10: Beit Sefer gets ready for Hanukkah!

Sunday December 10: Over 50 (yrs old) AARC members getting together at Morgan and York, sharing ways to enrich Jewish life. Look for a doodle poll soon to pick a Saturday morning to meet again. Questions? email Memberchip Committee co-chair, Marcy Epstein at dr_marcy@hotmail.com.

Friday December 15: Home hosted potluck and candle lighting at Debbie Zivan’s (limited, you must RSVP here.)

Saturday December 16: Home hosted potluck and candle lighting at Carole Caplan’s (limited, you must RSVP here.)

Sunday December 17: Home hosted potluck and candle lighting at Kira Berman’s (limited, you must RSVP here.)

Just gotta say, the description of this photo is “Martha Stewart, Thanksgiving leftovers on a platter.” Okay then.

Tuesday December 19: Last Candle Latke Party and Fry-Off: We are having an all congregation and friends Hanukkah party at the JCC, 5:30 to 7:30pm (Clean-uppers should plan to be there till 8pm). We need you to bring latkes: prizes for the best in every category! For ideas, here’s the winning recipes from  last year’s fry-off at Jewish Senior Life’s Fleischman Residence/Blumberg Plaza in West Bloomfield. And, here’s Jen Cohen’s Latke Secrets from our own past. Three people have already signed up to make latkes, but we need several more!! We’ll eat, light the hanukiot (bring your menorah and candles), sing songs and make a craft. Fun for all! RSVP and tell us what you are bringing.

Friday December 22: Fourth Friday Kabbalat Shabbat with potluck and tot shabbat, at the JCC.

Monday December 25th: Dinner and a Movie: Our annual December 25 “Dinner and a Movie” on Monday, December 25 (Christmas Day) at 5:15 pm, will again take place at Madras Masala (328 Maynard St, Ann Arbor) followed by movies at Michigan and State Theaters.
We will pre-order the food and you need to fill out this SignUp Genius so we can send the order in. Have cash available for payment. Madras Masala has increased business in the last two years and management needs us to pre-order to efficiently serve us as well as their walk-in and take-out customers. With this in mind, we will have our usual very fun dinner, with less wait for food and more time for enjoying and schmoozzing. Restaurant cooks will begin to prepare our orders early and wait staff will bring each individual and family your specific order.

Magical Hanukkah Lights

Beit Sefer G'dolim with their Hanukkah flames

G’dolim with their Hanukkah flames

Beit Sefer Yeledim with their Hanukkah flames

Yeledim with their Hanukkah flames

Paul with his traditional Jewish banjo teaching I Had a Little Dreidel

Paul with his traditional Jewish banjo teaching I Had a Little Dreidel

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Families with Young Children Light the Lights

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Making Sufganiyot

 

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Finishing Sufganiyot

 

Playing with the Gelt

Playing with the Gelt

 

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Feeling the magic

Feeling the magic

Deep dive into Hanukkah themes

themes of Hanukkah imageLast year at this time, I wrote an article about the complex, often contradictory, Hanukkah themes in children’s books. I looked over about 200 children’s Hanukkah titles and made these very general observations: Many older Hanukkah books focus on the Maccabees as brave Jewish warriors. While physical and moral courage continues to be a common theme, others include a focus on faith, “not by might but by spirit alone;” religious freedom; and being Jewish in a Christian majority country, including authentic friendship between Christians and Jews.

And then there are the books, maybe the majority of them, which emphasize Hanukkah as the Jewish midwinter holiday, the light in the middle of winter, with warm family gatherings, and the generosity and thoughtfulness of present exchange. The point of many of these books seems to be to familiarize Jewish kids with the symbols of the holiday: the dreidel, the menorah, gelt, and of course, presents. Included in these is the Hanukkah around the world theme: Hanukkah in Alaska, Antarctica, the prairie and even under the sea! These books convey the message that Jews are like everyone else….just with a little twist. Others that do this are the ones that riff on familiar folktales to tell a Hanukkah story: the gingerbread man becomes the runaway latkes or the runaway dreidels; Scrooge becomes Scroogmacher; the Jewish sorcerer’s apprentice can’t stop the pan from frying latkes….you get the point. I concluded that perhaps it is the proliferation of “Hanukkah in Chelm” books that do the best job of conveying the spirit of Hanukkah for children. The wise fools/foolish wise ones are uniquely Jewish, timeless, faithful, and oh so brave in their foolishness.

This year, however, I’ve found myself looking with a much more sober eye at various versions, for adults, of the “true meaning” of Hanukkah.  As we are daily confronted with religious zealotry in its present expressions, what do we hear in the echoes of Hanukkah? As AARC member Benji Ben Baruch writes in “The Stories of Hanukkah,” the significance of the Hanukkah story was reinterpreted many times over the generations reflecting the “particular political group at a specific point in time with conflicting visions of the present and future needs of the Jewish people.” It appears to me that we are in an era of transition from the late 20th century glorification of the Maccabee’s fight for independence into a cautionary era, focusing on recognizing the dangers of zealotry and the potential devolution of power to tyranny. In a lecture by Yehuda Kurtzer titled “On Terrorism and Nationalism, Reflections on Hanukkah in Light of the 20th Anniversary of the Rabin Assassination” (part of the 5776 Rabbinic Holiday Webinar Series from the Shalom Hartman Institute), Kurtzer repeatedly refers to Matisyahu Maccabee’s actions in the core Hanukkah story as acts of “terrorist, nationalist violence” (induced by a sense of powerlessness and combined with a conviction to Divine will), pointed language in our particular time. I cannot possibly summarize this profoundly important lecture here, but if you have an hour to devote to deep Jewish learning, I highly recommend it. Other recent, and briefer, reflections on Hanukkah for our time are here by Judith Seid and here by David Wolpe.

I asked several AARC members for their own top Hanukkah themes. Responses included:

  • From darkness to light/faith in the light returning
  • Rededicating ourselves to our beliefs
  • Rekindling hope
  • Courage to be who we are
  • The right/need to fight for your religious freedom
  • Jewish perseverance
  • Inspiration to fight against tyranny
  • Strong faith/spirit as a tool to win anything
  • A great leader is like the shamash candle: serve, light others fire, and caring/watching from above.

I hope these words inspire additional reflections on the meaning of Hanukkah for each of us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latke Secrets

alicia_jen_latkes(Note: Jen Cohen published this recipe on our former website after our 2012 Hanukkah party. I thought it would be wise to publish on this new site as a reference for our latke-making for years to come.)

 

By Jennifer Cohen

The big secrets are
– alternating potato and onion when grating,
– squeezing out the excess liquid before frying, and
– firmly packing the ice cream scoop to shape the latkes.

Also, make them with happy thoughts in your heart and they’ll always taste just right.

Basic potato latkes

5 medium Yukon Gold (or other golden) potatoes
1 large sweet onion
2 Tablespoons flour
1 large egg
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil, like canola

1. Scrub potatoes well and remove any obvious blemishes; no need to peel thin skinned potatoes like Yukon Gold. Cut to fit into food processor. Cut onion into 4 chunks and remove papery outer skin. Using grating blade in food processor, grate chunks of potato, then a chunk of onion, then potato, etc. Always alternate between potato and onion to keep mixture from blackening. When finished, place onion and potato in the center of a kitchen towel. Wrap into a ball and squeeze firmly to get rid of as much liquid as possible.

2. Put potato and onion back into large mixing bowl and add egg, flour, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. At this point, if the mixture seems too dry, you can add another egg. You will drain off excess liquid when you pack the ice cream scoop, so no worries about the batter being too wet.

3. Heat a generous amount (at least 1 inch) of oil in a large skillet over medium high flame. Using your hands, firmly pack an ice cream scoop, tilting it to the side to let any extra liquid drain back into the mixing bowl. Drop mounds of mixture into hot oil. Fry and turn only once, pressing down after the turn. When golden and crisp on each side, drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

The Twists

Potato, Carrot and Parsnip: substitute 3 potatoes, 1 large carrot and 1 large parsnip for the 5 potatoes in the basic recipe.

Potato, Beet and Sweet Potato: substitute 3 potatoes, 1 large beet and l large sweet potato for the 5 potatoes in the basic recipe. My trick is to grate the beet a day or two in advance and keep it in a container in the refrigerator. This helps it dry out so that it doesn’t bleed.

Zucchini: this was a last minute brainstorm idea and we used only zucchini, onion, flour, egg, salt and pepper. I think we could improve it, using one potato, maybe 6 or so zucchini and enough matzoh meal to help hold them together. Stay tuned…

For the 2012 Hanukkah Party we tried a few new twists:

  • Potato-Beet with Fresh dill and horseradish sour cream
  • Sweet Potato with coconut and pineapple-jalapeno salsa
  • Carrot-Parsnip (no potatoes at all!)

Also see: Jen’s challah recipe.