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Celebrating Hanukkah [Washington Parent]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Washington Parent
December 2003

Just before Hanukkah arrives each year (usually in December), children of all ages begin preparation for eight nights of lighting menorah candies, giving small gifts, eating oily morsels, spinning the dreidel—and basically making merry.

Whether you grew up with the traditions, married into them, or are a child learning about Jewish holidays for the first time, take note: This holiday is the fun, easy one.

What many fans of the festival of lights may not realize, however, is that the story of Hanukkah that they grew up with is, well, a myth.

Celebrated on the 25th day of the Jewish month Kislev, Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over Syrian forces that desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. When the temple was rededicated in 164 B.C.E., eight days of festivities ensued.

What about the story that miraculously a tiny bit of oil left from the massacre magically burned for eight days? Author Anita Diamant explains in her 1991 book, Living a Jewish Life: Jewish Traditions, Customs and Values for Today’s Families.

“Although the rabbis who codified Jewish law and practice in the Talmud were disturbed by the prospect of a holiday that celebrated a military victory, it was clear that the Hebrew people were not about to give up their midwinter celebration of lights and merrymaking,” she writes. “Thus, the story of the miracle of oil became the preferred justification for the lighting of candles, a custom that was probably borrowed from pagan solstice celebrations.”

Janice Kimmelman, acting director of the Olam Tikvah Preschool shrieks at the news.

“Oh, don’t tell me that,” she says with a knowing grin, noting she’s still planning to tell her preschoolers the magic burning oil story.

And along with the famous tale, children at Olam Tikvah will spend the weeks before Hanukkah learning several simple holiday songs and helping to make dozens of tasty fried potato latkes (they do the grating, the teacher does the frying, Kimmelman assures).

They’ll also make several crafts including menorahs, the nine-pronged candelabra that hold the eight Hanukkah candles, one for each night of Hanukkah, plus a “fighter candle” called the Shamash.

As a special treat this year, the preschoolers will watch a performance of “The Case of the Missing Shamash,” a play about Hanukkah by Lion Tales Puppet Theater. Hanukkah, says Kimmelman, is a holiday that brings bundles of joy to all who celebrate it.

“It’s truly a wonderful holiday, one that fills the children’s senses with good smells and tastes,” she says. “Grown-ups love it, too.”

No matter which version of the Hanukkah story you choose to tell, here are a few recipes, craft ideas and games that will help get your
family into the holiday spirit.

Food First
Since Jewish lore tells us that we celebrate Hanukkah thanks to a smidgen of oil that magically burned for eight days, oily foods dominate the festival of lights. From salty potato latkes to sweet sufganiot donuts, it’s tough to say no to these treats.

If you don’t have your Jewish grandmother’s secret recipe on hand, try these traditional recipes, on the following page, courtesy of the Hagshama Department of the World Zionist Organization (www.wzo.org.).


Ingredients: 6 large potatoes / 1 medium onion, grated / 2 eggs / 1-1/2 tsp salt / 1/4 tsp pepper / 1/2 cup flour / oil for frying

1. Grate potatoes (preferably by hand).
2. 2. Remove excess liquid.
3. Mix in other ingredients.
4. Fry small spoonfuls in oil until golden brown
5. Drain and serve hot (usually with a dollop of sour cream or tablespoon of applesauce)

Source: The Recipe Gold Mine: www.recipegoldmine.com.


Ingredients: 1/2 cup butter or vegetable shortening / 1 cup ground Brazil nuts / 1 cup granulated sugar / 2 cups flour / 1 egg / 2 tsp baking powder / 1 teaspoon grated orange peel / 1/2 tsp salt / 2 T orange juice / 1 tsp almond flavoring

1. Cream together butter or shortening and sugar until light and fluffy.
2. Stir in egg, orange peel, orange juice and Brazil nuts.
3. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the creamed mixture. Mix well. Stir in almond flavoring. Chill several hours.
4. Roll out dough 1/8 inch thick on a lightly floured board.
5. Cut into “dreidel” shapes.
6. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets in a moderate oven, 375 degrees, for 8 to 10 minutes. (If using 2-inch cookie cutters, makes about 5 dozen cookies.)


Hanukkah Gelt means “money” in Yiddish. Another meaning is “gold.”

Ingredients: 18 large apricot halves / 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate, broken into bits, or chocolate chips

*Directions: *
1. In small microwave-safe dish, melt chocolate on high for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, stopping cooking every 30 seconds to stir. Do not overcook or chocolate will burn.
2. Alternatively, melt chocolate in double boiler over very low heat until just liquid, being careful not to overcook.
3. Dip apricots in chocolate, covering approximately half the apricot.
4. Place dipped apricots on cookie sheet covered with wax paper; chill in refrigerator until chocolate hardens, about 20 minutes.
Serves 6

Source: Vegetarian Times, December 1996


• Websites abound with great ideas for fun and simple Hanukkah crafts. Some sites such www.enchantedlearning.com provide templates for dreidels, menorahs, Star of David pillows, and more.

• At www/amazingmoms.com there are dozens of quick and easy craft projects listed, including lessons on how to make Hanukkah window sparklers, candle puppets, and play dough menorahs.


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.