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December 6, 2020 6:44 am

The Miracle of Hanukkah Will Go On

avatar by Ethel G. Hofman / JNS.org

Opinion

A menorah. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgJewish individuals and families around the world will light the first Hanukkah candle after sundown on December 10, marking the beginning of the eight-day “Festival of Lights” and the start of the celebration of a resounding story of freedom. In the mid-second century BCE, the Greeks prohibited Jewish practices, even circumcision. The last straw was when the Holy Temple was converted into a pagan shrine, prompting Judah Maccabee and his four brothers to lead a rebellion defeating the Syrian-Greek armies. The Temple was cleansed on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, and rededicated by Judah and his followers, who built a new altar. A makeshift menorah was lit by a cruse of oil that was enough for one day but lasted for eight until more was to be had. The tradition of cooking with oil is symbolic of that miracle.

This Hanukkah is like no other in living memory. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, family and friends are isolated. In-person hugs and kisses, laughter and handshakes, and dreidel games and gifts of gelt are all missing. But COVID-19 can’t stop us from celebrating. We’ll order online from the comfort of home. Likely items present will include comfy pajamas, warm socks, soft blankets, sweatpants, board games, and snack foods. We’ll share dinners on Zoom and FaceTime to connect with family, albeit virtually, exchanging recipes for the best latkes and doughnuts.

During World War II, when Britain was battered and bombed by Nazi Germany, people were able to be together, to sympathize with hugs and shoulders to lean on. Forced to seek safety in air-raid shelters, seated shoulder to shoulder with gas masks slung over their shoulders, adults and children were comforted by a social intimacy. They sang songs to keep up their spirits, entertained kids with stories, gossiped to add a degree of normalcy, and shared snacks and drinks until the all-clear siren sounded. With mandatory night blackouts when there wasn’t a glimmer of light to be seen, friends walked along the dark streets to neighbors for a cuppa (a good strong cup of tea) and a hand of whist (card game).

Just about everything was rationed, including butter, sugar, meat, and tea. Each person got one pound of sugar per person per month — and that included candy. Margarine was substituted for butter. But Brits learned to cook so as to overcome severe shortages. Lentils substituted for meat in Shepherd’s Pie; sponge cakes were prepared without eggs; vinegar, plus water, replaced yeast. Though we cannot be together this year, our supermarkets are well-stocked with an abundance of ingredients to help us celebrate Hanukkah.

With time on our hands and a bit of thought, we can establish new traditions. Set an example to be followed. Show kindness to neighbors, shop for the elderly who are living alone, make phone calls to shut-ins, or, as I’ll be doing, bake and cook for a local food bank.

Hanukkah dishes fried in oil are traditional. But young kids and a pot of hot oil can be a recipe for burns and tears. And children do want to help, so let them join in with the proper precautions. In the recipe for Pumpkin Sufganiot below, I’ve included baking instructions with plenty of “hands-on” preparation. Sticky Toffee Pudding, a British classic soaked in toffee sauce, is baked in muffin tins for solo or “bubble” groups. Sinfully rich, it’s a magic bullet guaranteed to soothe body and soul.

For a list of Hanukkah recipes, click here.

Here’s to a sweet and safe Hanukkah season!

Ethel G. Hofman is a contributor to JNS.

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