Thursday, December 29, 2011

Pass the Latkes!

Lighting the candles
 In between the end of the semester and millions of dollars of corporate advertising, it's easy to be distracted from the rest of the holidays during this time of the year.  The night before my 48-hour escape from Troy, I went to my first Hanukkah party since I was in Mrs. Hunter's pre-school class. The party was one of the most multicultural affairs I've ever been too.  Chinese, Korean, Thai, Irish, South African, and American, everyone showed up to eat latkes and light the Hanukiah on the third night of Hanukkah.  Our hosts were the newly wedded Israeli scholar from my lab and his blushing bride.  Eyal started us off with the picture book version of the story of Hanukkah. 
To summarize, the Greeks had conquered Jerusalem and taken control of the Second Temple.  The Hebrews rallied and reclaimed their temple.  The Temple was cleaned and repaired but there was only enough oil for the Menorah (lamp) to burn for one day.  The lamp oil took eight days to prepare so the victorious Hebrews were still in a predicament.  Miraculously, one-day's worth of oil continued to burn for the full eight days required to procure more oil.  Eyal made us all chuckle when he went on the quip that every Jewish holiday can be summarized as 'We were few. They were many. We defeated them. Let's eat.' The last part crosses every culture I've encountered.  Even holidays that begin with fasting end with a really good meal. 

B'tey a'von - Hebrew for "Bon Appetit"
We each got a dreidel to take home
We definitely had a good meal..  There were piles of latkes, scalloped corn, and spreads for crackers and latkes.  Dessert featured cookies and cupcakes.  With everyone well fed and watered, everyone started sharing their personal holiday traditions and trying to play dreidel.  Interesting but of Hanukkah trivia: the symbols on the dreidel are an acronym to acknowledge the roots of Hanukkah in the Temple of Jerusalem.  Dreidels in Israel say "a great miracle happened here" and dreidels outside of Israel read "a great miracle happened there."  It's surprisingly difficult to get them spinning correctly. At one point one of the girls was trying to play jacks with the dreidels.  I remember learning how to play the game in school years ago but all I could remember was there's a symbol for putting all your pieces in the pot and one for putting half your pieces in.  What those symbols were or what the other two indicate were beyond me. We stayed out later than anyone was expecting but everyone left full and happy. I personally believe that the best part of the winter holiday season is sharing traditions and becoming a closer community.

Photo Credit: All photos are courtesy of Ang. Thank you!

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