Memories of a merry Hanukah

by Sarah on December 8, 2012

potato pancakes

Growing up in upstate New York, Christmas and Hanukah merged together into the holiday season.  In elementary school we were handed out Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer coloring pages.   During my teen years I played flute at the annual Christmas concert.  Between Silent Night and Handel’s Messiah the music teacher always squeezed in My Little Dreidel – a nod to the Feins and Fishmans in the audience.  Hanukah was considered Christmas for Jews, while in fact it was like comparing a picnic with a formal banquet.

potato pancakes, latkes

Both are convivial celebrations, bringing friends and family together but Christmas has a much higher sense of obligation.  As a host, all I am expected to do is supply plenty of deep fried potato pancakes and suvganiot (jam filled donuts). There is no need to fiddle with napkin origami or seating arrangements (that’s reserved for Passover or the Jewish New Year). Gift giving, mercifully is usually limited to a few baubles and candies for the children.

potato pancakes

The informality of Hanukah extends to other areas as well. Aside from the menorah (the 9 branched candelabra) and colorful streamers for school parties, extensive decorating isn’t widespread.  In the United States entire communities are transformed with fairy lights, glittering Christmas trees and a myriad of glowing ornaments.  In my home town in Kingston there was one enthusiastic neighbor who would balance an entire fleet of glowing plastic reindeer on the roof of his house where they would stay until Saint Patrick’s Day. Our family would often pack into the Volkswagen camper and head south for school break. South Floridians won’t let the subtropical climate interfere with their white Christmas. We visited a few with winter wonderlands in their backyards, replete with miniature train sets traversing Styrofoam replicas of snowy mountain ranges.

 clouds in Israel, modi'in

{Cloudy skies of an Israeli winter}

I miss the spirit and heightened sense of anticipation that December used to bring. It still exists in Israel but mainly in Christian enclaves such as in Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.   Although Hanukah is considered a minor holiday in Israel, even the most secular teachers are suddenly pious when it comes to days off. Parents must arrange supervision or miss work to care for their children. However, the time is often spent with the family and friends, not hustling to buy last minute gifts or preparing complicated side dishes. Keeping connections, for me, has always been the essence of Hanukah.

potato pancakes, latkes, hanukah

Potato Pancakes (Latkes)


This recipe is from Yael Ruder’s blog, Hope it Will Rain.


4-5 large potatoes, thinly grated and squeezed from excess moisture

1 large onion, thinly grated

2-3 eggs

2-3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking soda

Salt, pepper

Vegetable oil such as corn or canola for frying

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl until evenly combined. Heat oil in a pan for shallow frying. With a tablespoon, place dollops of the mixture in the pan and flatten them down slightly. Fry until golden and turn-over. Continue to fry until golden on the opposite side as well. Take the pancakes out of the frying pan and place on a paper towel lined tray to absorb excess oil. Serve with apple sauce or yogurt.

Tip: If the fritters are too thick, reduce the heat so they cook through before the outside becomes burnt.  Alternatively place them in an oven proof dish and bake at 180⁰C for another 10-15 minutes after frying.

Variation: Replace one potato with a cup of packed chopped herbs such as parsley, green onions, dill, basil and coriander.

herb potato pancakes



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