Hanukkah, a tradition also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday that begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which coincides with December on the secular calendar each year.
In Hebrew, the word “hanukkah” means “dedication.” The name is a reminder that the holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrians in 165 B.C.E.
The nature of the holiday lends itself to the theme of light, which is why most celebrate Hanukkah by lighting the menorah. Other traditional ways to celebrate are saying blessings and playing the dreidel game for “gelt” (money) or candy. But there are many ways to celebrate the spirit of the season.
Rabbi Robert Slosberg of Congregation Adath Jeshurun says he uses Hanukkah as a time of “spiritual introspection.”
“In Rabbinic teachings, lighting the candles on the menorah in order from one to eight is to signify moving up in holiness,” he said. “Therefore, I use this time to grow spiritually and, to help others. It is a time of great charity.”
One Louisville family has quite the tried and true tradition for Hanukkah. For the past five decades, the Fox family has participated in lighting candles on the menorah at Jewish Hospital East.
For the last 55 years, the candles have been lit in honor of Bernard “Bensie” Fox’s late sister, Hilda. Once a beloved and dedicated nurse at Jewish Hospital, Hilda would erect a menorah each year and light Hanukkah candles for Jewish patients and visitors of the hospital. Since Hilda’s death in 1956, the Fox family has continued to honor her tradition and each night of the Festival of Lights a family member returns to Jewish Hospital to light a candle and uphold her legacy.
“The ceremony doesn’t last long at all, but it is something we do to exemplify the life and memorialize her,” said Lawrence Fox, son of Bernard Fox, the only living sibling of Hilda.
“It is a family tradition worth preserving,” Lawrence Fox said.
Mandy Vine and her immediate family started out commemorating Hanukkah one way but have since evolved their celebration.
“We’ve always stuck to the tradition of eight little gifts spread out among eight nights. But as the kids got older, those little gifts just didn’t cut it. So, what we do to change it up is celebrate traditionally the first night; we eat a brisket, potato latkes, apple sauce etc. But then after the first night we do a White Elephant gift exchange. It is SO much fun! The limit is $25, so nothing too nice. I think one year a U of L Snuggie was most sought after. We’ve been doing it now since the kids became teenagers and its a goofy way of culminating the tradition of Hanukkah but with our family’s spin on it.”
New or old, one tradition remains when it comes to Hanukkah cuisine: fried foods. Foods thick in oil are traditionally eaten on Hanukkah in commemoration of the oil that burned for eight nights during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.
So, “Hanukkah,” “Chanukah” or however you choose to spell it, what matters is the meaning behind the tradition. From lighting the menorah or winning at dreidel, don’t forget these are cherished moments.
Personally, I’d like my tradition with a side of potato latkes.
La’chaim! (Hebrew translation: “To Life!”)
Eight Happy Hanukkah Songs
- “¢ “Maoz Tzur.” Written sometime in the 13th century, the English version is widely known as “Rock of Ages.” Its six stanzas correspond to five events of Jewish history and a hope for the future.
- “I Have a Little Dreidel.” Also know as “The Dreidel Song,” the melody is well associated with the festival of Hanukkah and is known by many.
- “Light One Candle.” The 1983 Hanukkah song by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary has been sung by the trio at their concerts.
- The Hanukkah Song.” One in a series of popular Hanukkah parodies by Adam Sandler, this one highlights the “eight crazy nights” of gifts while also listing well-known Jewish celebrities.
- “Eight Days of Hanukkah.” At the suggestion of Jeffrey Goldberg, this tune was written by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Madeline Stone, a Jewish songwriter from the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
- “Hanukkah Hey Ya.” In the likes of Adam Sandler, this is also a Hanukkah spoof of a chart-topping 2003 OutKast song, “Hey Ya!,” by American comedian Eric Schwartz.
- “Light the Festive Candles.” This short and sweet tune is perfect for the kids. Adapted from a poem by Aileen Fisher, Barbara Klaskin Silberg helps remind the kids the meaning behind lighting the menorah.
- “Take a Potato.” Another mini melody, Malvina Reynolds will help your kiddos remember the recipe when they cook latkes.
Tracy Blue’s Tried “˜n’ True Latkes Recipe
- 3 cups peeled and shredded Idaho potatoes
- 1 cup peeled and pureed Idaho potatoes
- 1/2 cup pureed white onion
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup Matzo Meal
- 2 tbs. minced fresh parsley
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Couple dashes of black pepper
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
In a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Drain excess moisture from shredded potatoes, getting as much liquid out as possible. Combine potatoes, onion, eggs, Matzo Meal, parsley, salt and pepper .
Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Let drain on paper towels. Serve hot.
Holiday Happenings Continued: Next week, the making of Santa Claus and the meaning of Christmas.
Category: Cover Stories
About the Author (Author Profile)
Voice-Tribune Staff Writer Lauren DePaso enjoys being a tourist in her own city, exploring the nightlife and cheering on the Cards. A Louisville native, she currently resides in St. Matthews.