hahg same'akh (חג שמח)
This Hanukkah I can celebrate for the first time as a Jew. I have come to love the religion and the traditions that tie me to generations of Jewish families. I know as I’m slowly cooking my brisket, frying latkes, or lighting my menorah there are families all around the world doing the same thing. And for a religion in which every ritual has an ingrained meaning, I’ve come to relish these times, even when I’m forced to laugh at the oddities that I encounter along the way (gefilte fish is most definitely an acquired taste).
My love of Hanukkah predates my conversion by quite a few years. The liberal grade school I attended in Seattle liked to give kids a taste of each of the religious holidays and for my first taste of Hannukah I actually got to fry up my own latkes during class. Not a bad introduction. I remember thinking these are the most delicious fried potatoes EVER! Since that first taste I was hooked, to the point where my Jewish friend’s mothers would send along extra latkes to school or in one case an awesome mom shipped a package of latkes to my college, not for her son, but just for me — she was a true mensch.
Even a convert like me knows that the holiday does not revolve solely around these wondrous fried potatoes. As I eat, I’m aware of the symbolism behind the oil they are fried in representing the single vessel of oil lasting a miraculous eight days needed until the ancient Jews could refuel.
Along with the latkes the menorah is a source of much joy and laughter in my new family. From my first experiments with my boyfriend, now husband, where we used plastic shot glasses, cotton balls, and embedded birthday candles as a completely improvised menorah. To my brother-in-law using a bodega style coffee filter as a yamulke as my Catholic cousin cooked away at matzo ball soup and kugel in the kitchen.
As the years progressed we moved on to a true menorah. I bought a beautiful small silver menorah and we ceremoniously added our candles and watched as wax coated any surface the menorah sat on. The year of our engagement, as we were shuttling back and forth between each other’s apartments, and I was dead set on doing the blessings each night, we had to improvise once more. I used real shot glasses and we jumped off the sofa when we heard the first one explode from the heat of the candle. Fire leaning against a thin glass wall–shocking!
And now in our new home we are graced with our first electrical menorah. An electric menorah is pretty much on par with a plastic Christmas tree. No fuss but lets say slightly less magical. My mother in law was greeted on her first visit to meet her new relatives by a similar menorah. As she watched her mother in law light the menorah in reverse by screwing out the electrical bulbs and then screwing them back on throughout the eight days of the holiday I can only imagine her expression. What at first was an aesthetic shock, became a wonderful tradition that has now been passed on to us. I will proudly display our electrical menorah with some mirth as I imagine my mother-in-law meeting her new family for the first time.
I wish you a very Happy Hanukkah!
Get the recipe: Potato Latkes