When Thanksgiving ends, the song lyrics to Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song” and “Hanukkah O Hanukkah” rendition by the Barenaked Ladies pops in my head and I’m reminded my favorite Jewish holiday is approaching.
Festival of Lights
Hanukkah can be spelled in various ways and translates to “dedication” in Hebrew. The holiday celebrates the Macabee’s victory and fight to be Jewish and remain at the Temple over the Greek and Syrian armies. The miracle of this holiday is that the Macabees found only enough oil to keep the Temple lit for one day, but it miraculously lasted for eight days! This is why Hanukkah is sometimes referred to as the “Festival of Lights”. Hanukkah is actually a minor Jewish holiday, but because it usually falls around the same time as Christmas, we tend to hype it up a bit. When I was younger, I used to ask my father, a rabbi, “Are those the Christmas people or Hanukkah people?” As we drove down through our neighborhood past beautiful light displays.
Celebrating Hanukkah in our home is always a joyous occasion. Our family and friends gather together to light the Menorah (candelabrum), eat latkes (potato pancakes) spin the dreidel (spinning top), and other activities. My family uses this holiday as an opportunity to exchange gifts with each other and teach children the importance of giving to others. Many families, including our own, try to engage in some form of community outreach during the Hanukkah season. Last year, my son Gabe and I donated diapers and stuffed animals to a local shelter.
Last year, we started a new tradition by making new flavors of latkes using beets, zucchini, and sweet potatoes. I’m hoping we can all be a little more adventurous and use some spicy ingredients this season. Many families serve their pancakes with sour cream and apple sauce but I prefer a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on top to get a nice mix of sweet and salty. Not only do we get to eat delicious latkes but we also indulge on another fried food called sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts). This warm gooey tasty treat is a delight to all ages and requires lots of napkins.
On my kitchen table, we have an array of dreidels. There are wood ones, plastic ones, some that make noise, glow-in-the-dark ones, and even one made out of legos. There also is a menorah made out of blue-painted bowtie pasta but I don’t recommend that craft to anyone.
Every morning of Hanukkah my children spin them over and over again to play a game. The Hebrew letters on each side represent an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham – “A great miracle happened there” referring to the miracle that occurred in the land of Israel. Growing up, my parents used to put in the middle of the table a large bowl of M & M’s or gelt (foil-wrapped chocolate coins). The rules were if a player lands on Nun, they get no candy, lands on Gimmel, the player gets everything, and so forth. Sometimes, we even played with pistachios because we ate all the candy and that was all we had in the house! Others may use raisins, peanuts, Skittles, or whatever leftover Halloween candy they find in their freezer. Sometimes you just have to be creative for this holiday since most stores only carry an end cap of Hanukkah goodies.
About the Author
Leora was born in Baltimore, MD and moved to Omaha at the age of 4. She is married to the wonderful Matthew Werner of Hastings, NE and mom to Gabe (4) and Mia (3) and a dachshund named Edward. She teaches 8th grade at Temple Israel, tutors for Bat and Bat Mitzvahs, and enjoys volunteering. Leora especially enjoys her time on the Omaha Children’s Museum Guild because her children spend countless hours there playing, learning, and making new friends! In her spare time, you can find her playing trains, working on art projects, and hopping around town with her kids!