Hanukkah: The Festival of Might
On why we need to celebrate Hanukkah HARD this year, and a recipe.
🎉 Mazel tov to the Hannukah giveaway winner: Emily B., who will receive Adeena Sussman’s cookbook, Shabbat!
Note: This will be my second year fully embracing Hanukkah and not celebrating Christmas (except for maybe watching Love Actually). To read about that journey, read my post “The Jew Who Loved Christmas.”
The story of Hanukkah celebrates the Maccabees’ triumph over the Syrian-Greek army in the Land of Israel around 200 BCE.
It’s about the Jews versus Seleucids, ruled by a ruthless, power-hungry king who not only killed Jews but tried to kill Jewish tradition as well. It’s also about devoted Jews versus Hellenized, assimilated Jews, pitted against each other when they should have been united.
Rather than relay the whole history to you, I encourage you to watch this video from Jewish Unpacked which was written by yours truly! It’s my first script with them and I’m so proud of it and excited to write more.
There’s one part in the beginning of the story I’d like to focus on, and that is when King Antiochus captured and desecrated the holy Jewish Temple.
You see, the Jewish people at this time were not united. Some were power hungry and rose in ranks in society, even becoming chummy with the cruel king and bribing him for power (I’m looking at you disapprovingly, Jason).
This is when the king and his men defiled the Temple by turning it into a Greek frat house, Seleucid style. There, they built a shrine to Zeus. They sacrificed pigs as an insult to kosher dietary laws. They destroyed holy books and stole precious items from the treasury. They forced Jews to celebrate pagan holidays and killed anyone who refused. On top of this, he outlawed Jewish practice, like studying Torah, keeping Shabbat, and circumcision.
No wonder the Jews rebelled. They rose up to fight and to preserve Jewish tradition that the Seleucids were trying so hard to quash.
On October 7th of this year, Hamas shattered the sanctity of what we once considered our impenetrable temple. No, not a literal Holy Temple — we don’t have one of those anymore (I’m looking at you disapprovingly, Romans).
Over 60 days ago, Hamas broke into our symbolic temple, destroying Jewish lives through murder, rape, and kidnapping in the name of terrorism.
Our temple was one of refuge: homes with families celebrating a joyous holiday, a music festival celebrating life, bomb shelters built to protect. Places and events where Jews typically gather and feel safe, maybe even nosh a little and sing together. A temple.
And now, antisemitism rears its ugly head daily. A mob gathers outside a university library to intimidate Jewish students. A hate-filled person desecrates a Jewish-owned restaurant. A public Hanukkah gathering is cancelled. And a few more, at that.
It was the internal strife in the story of Hanukkah that weakened the Jewish people and caused their loss of autonomy. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that when Jews unite, we can accomplish great things.
I’m not talking about defeating your enemy using strategic military campaigns (though that works too). I’m referring to the magic that happens when people put aside their differences to come together for a common goal. The power you can reclaim when you care about your Judaism and stand up for what you believe in.
In the story of Hanukkah, the Jews defeated the Seleucids and reclaimed their Temple, restoring their altars and lighting the menorah with the last bit of olive oil that famously lasted for eight miraculous days.
The Roman Jewish historian, Josephus, who gave us the term “Festival of Lights,” said the real miracle was bringing the freedom to be a Jew out of the darkness and into the light.
The Seleucids didn’t want to kill us; they wanted to break our spirit, strip us of our traditions, and assimilate us. Well, it’s time we channel our inner Maccabee. At a time when people are trying to scare us and tell us we’re not deserving of our homeland, we must stand tall, together, in defiance with our Magen Davids, our Israeli flags, our Shabbat practice, our menorahs. Our light.
Something cool I recently learned is that Chanukah has the same Hebrew root as the word chinukh, which means education. We can start by educating ourselves on our history, where our people come from, why they dispersed all over the world, and how after all this time, they still have not destroyed us — in body and in spirit.
Chag Urim Sameach (Happy Festival of Lights),
Recipe Time: Apple Fritters with Vanilla Sugar
Someone generously gifted me Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen by Leah Koenig, full of Roman Jewish recipes! Besides ancient Israel, Rome has the oldest surviving Jewish community in the world. Its history is 2,000 years old, stemming from the Hanukkah story when Judah Maccabee sent envoys from Judea to seek protection from King Antiochus—and stayed. The Roman Jewish community has lots of olive oil in which to fry food like artichokes, but here’s a spin on classic potato latkes: apple fritters!
For the vanilla sugar
2 vanilla beans
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
For the fritters
4 large baking apples, peeled
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups milk or non-dairy milk
Vegetable oil (such as sunflower or grape seed) for frying
1. Prepare the vanilla sugar: Split the vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds; set the pods aside. Put the sugar and vanilla seeds in a food processor and pulse until fully combined. Transfer the sugar to a glass jar, add the reserved pods, cover tightly and set aside. (The sugar can be used right away, but the flavor will develop over time. It can be stored, tightly covered, for up to 1 year.)
2. Prepare the fritters: Using an apple corer (or a melon baller
or sturdy metal teaspoon), carefully remove the apple cores and discard. Slice the apples into 1/2-inch-thick rings and set aside.
3. Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Add the milk and whisk until smooth.
4. Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Line a large plate with paper towels and set nearby.
5. When the oil is hot, working in batches of 4 to 5, dip the apple rings into the batter, let the excess drip off and carefully slip them into the oil. Fry, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate to drain.
6. Sprinkle the fritters generously with vanilla sugar while still hot and serve immediately.