By Deborah Fineblum Schabb/JNS.org
As winter arrives and the days grow shorter, outdoor lighting is needed more during the Hanukkah season than at any other time of year. This need is taken particularly seriously in Israel, where outdoor menorahs make a nocturnal stroll through city streets a treat for the eyes – and for the spirit.
The outdoor Hanukkah menorah was one Israeli tradition that painters Israel Hershberg and Yael Scalia Hershberg embraced when they made aliyah from Baltimore more than three decades ago. Each year, they place nine shot glasses filled with olive oil (and each topped with a wick) in a simple box fashioned of brass and tin. The box has glass windows and little chimneys.
“It’s something of a Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite) artifact since it seems they don’t make them anymore,” Yael says of the box, which was purchased from a craftsman in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim. “It’s very old world, and in its authenticity and its simplicity it has real charm.”
The term menorah itself can be cause for confusion, even in Israel. The one used thousands of years ago in the Jewish Temple, which was adopted as a symbol of the nascent state of Israel, has seven branches. But the Hanukkah menorah has nine branches – one for each day the scarce oil burned in the reclaimed temple more than 2,000 years ago, as well as a “shamash” to light the rest of the candles and stand guard over them as they burn.
In an effort to stem the confusion, in the late 1800s Eliezer ben Yehuda, the father of the modern Hebrew language, coined the term “hanukkiah,” which is how today’s Israelis tend to refer to Hanukkah menorahs.
But not all hanukkiahs are outdoor affairs. Many of the 70-plus hanukkiahs in the home of Tel Aviv collector Bill Gross and his wife Lisa are just too gorgeous – and too valuable – to expose to the elements.
Gross, however, is intent on “seeing them returned to their original use,” which is why he uses a different hanukkiah each year. The rotation includes the 1950 Israeli specimen he used growing up in Minneapolis. “I believe that as soon as you look at them as art objects, it rips them up by their roots. These are objects made for performing a mitzvah and it’s only right to let them do that,” he says.
Old hanukkiahs also serve as a reminder of those years when the act of lighting them was a risky undertaking. One hanukkiah, dating back to pre-World War II times, is on display in the Holocaust History Museum at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem, where visitors can find it in the section dealing with the Nazi rise to power. Every year, members of the family who donated it – the Mansbachs – take it home to Haifa to light it for the holiday.
“The thousands of personal items in Yad Vashem’s collections help us connect with the experience of Jewish men, women, and children during the Shoah,” says Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev.
Member of Knesset Rabbi Dov Lipman (Yesh Atid) and his family also use a hanukkiah that reminds them of this dark time in Jewish history – a replica of one constructed of nails in a concentration camp. “It was a gift for my bar mitzvah,” says Lipman, a Maryland native who now lives in Beit Shemesh. “As a people we have always used any means at our disposal to survive and to stay strong, and every year when we light this hanukkiah we and our children are reminded of that.”
But not all menorahs have survived tough times. Many, like the one Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky used in a Soviet internment camp 34 years ago, remain only in the memory of those touched by their light. Back in 1980, Sharansky was one of a group of political prisoners and the only Jew. “But when I told them Hanukkah was coming, everyone was very enthusiastic,” he says.
One friend who worked in the wood shop fashioned a crude menorah of pressed wood from a box for Sharansky. He lit in the barracks on the first night of Hanukkah and on several subsequent nights, until a KGB collaborator turned him in and the menorah was confiscated. “The head of the camp called me in and told me, ‘This is not a synagogue; you were brought here for punishment, not for praying,’” recalls Sharansky, who promptly embarked on a hunger strike.
The hunger strike made the camp leaders nervous because a commission from Moscow was expected to arrive shortly. On the last night of Hanukkah, Sharansky told the head of the camp, “You want me to stop the hunger strike? You give me back my menorah and bring me nine candles. I’ll say the prayers and you say, ‘Amen.’”
Which is exactly what happened. “I prayed the day would come when we will celebrate our freedom in Jerusalem and that all our enemies will hear our prayer and say, ‘Amen,’” says Sharansky. Since the prayer was in Hebrew, the head of the camp didn’t understand a word but just kept saying “Amen.” The next day, after the commission had come and gone, Sharansky was sent back to the camp’s prison.
The light from all the menorahs throughout time continues to shine down through Jewish history, says Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi in charge of the Western Wall and other Israeli holy sites. Every year, after lighting the official Western Wall hanukkiah, Rabinowitz returns home to light the small silver one his in-laws gave him for his wedding 25 years ago. “A little bit of light takes away all the darkness,” the rabbi says through a translator. “And this year, more than ever, we need the light. As a people we need to be united and together, with no fighting or disagreement. We Jews need to connect through this light to the spirit of Hanukkah and to each other.”
Rabinowitz adds, “At a time of so much darkness, we need to also connect to the power of our Jewish tradition. The light has the power to bring us back to it and to unify us.”
The hanukkiah at the home of Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, co-founder and executive director of the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah agency, came with his wife Batsheva’s grandfather all the way to America from Germany, where he purchased it after the war. “He had lost everything but gathered whatever he could to buy a semblance of Judaism, which for him was a sign of rebuilding and hope,” says Fass. “And now that it has been passed down to the fourth generation in our family, it also reminds us that Jewish history is still being written and Israel is the homeland for tomorrow’s generations of our people.”
“Each night, when we add a candle and the light grows steadily stronger, we realize once again the importance of being here in Israel, the only place in the world that is truly ours,” Fass adds. “Like the miracle of Hanukkah, this mini-miracle of our ability to return home to Israel is something that we want to publicize to the entire Jewish world.”
How to eat Hanukkah sufganiyot without guilt
By Jaime Geller/JNS.org
The average Hanukkah sufganiya (jelly donut) has between 300 and 400 calories of nearly pure oil and fat. In honor of the miracle God bestowed on the Maccabees, making oil meant for just a day last eight days, the delicious donut and other traditionally oily Hanukkah foods become annual killers for your diet. For those who are health conscious but do not want to be deprived of the annual treat, here are three healthier recipes selected from Joyofkosher.com. Consider substituting or reducing ingredients further as needed for your diet.
BAKED WHOLE WHEAT CRANBERRY ORANGE DONUTS
Contributed by: Tamar Genger MA, RD on Joyofkosher.com
These baked donuts taste more like cake since they are not fried, but they are still very tasty. In addition, they use the healthier option of whole wheat flour.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Ready Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 12 mini-donuts
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons corn meal
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons liquid coconut oil
6 tablespoons coconut milk mixed with 1 teaspoon lemon or vinegar
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped fresh cranberries
For the glaze:
1/4 cup fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup powdered sugar
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a nonstick mini-donut pan with cooking spray and set aside.
• In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cornmeal, orange zest, sugar, baking powder, and salt together.
• In a small bowl, whisk the coconut oil, the coconut milk mixture, egg white, and vanilla together. Add the wet and dry ingredients and fold in until just mixed, and add chopped cranberries. Stir until just mixed. Spoon into donut pan.
• Bake for 12-14 minutes.
• Make glaze. While donuts cool, in a small saucepan heat the cranberries and orange juice until they burst about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, mash berries with fork, add powdered sugar and vanilla; stir well. Dip donut into glaze and serve.
BAKED “SUFGANIYOT” JELLY DONUTS
From Jaime Geller on Joyofkosher.com
Another recipe that forgoes frying in oil.
Prep Time: approximately 2 hours
Cook Time: 10-12 minutes
Ready Time: approximately 2-3 hours
Servings: 24 doughnuts
1 (1/4-ounce) package rapid rise dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup 1% milk, warmed
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons margarine or butter, cut into 9 pieces
3/4 – 1 cup strawberry jam
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
• Dissolve the yeast with the 1 tablespoon of the sugar in 1/4 cup warm water.
• In a standing mixer with a paddle, beat egg yolk, egg, yeast mixture, 1/4 cup of sugar, and milk.
• With paddle going, add flour and salt.
• Add margarine one piece at a time. Dough should be sticky but elastic.
• Turn out dough onto floured surface. Knead once or twice. Shape into ball. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and place in a warm area for at least an hour or until dough is doubled.
• Lightly grease 2 baking sheets.
• Divide dough in half. With lightly oiled hands, take approximately 2 tablespoons of dough and roll into ball. Place on greased baking sheet.
• Repeat with remaining dough, placing balls 2 inches apart (about 12 balls per baking sheet). Cover with a kitchen or tea towel and let rise 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
• Bake at 375 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and let cool.
•Place jam in a pastry bag fitted with a medium pastry tip or use a small ziplock type of bag fitted with a medium pastry tip. Pastry tips are available at most craft stores.
• Press tip into donut and squeeze at least 1 teaspoon of jam into donut, or more if desired.
• Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.
If you don’t have a standing mixer, use a hand mixer for Step 2 and beat the egg yolk, egg, yeast mixture, sugar, and milk for about 1 minute. Knead the rest of the ingredients together by hand: first the flour, then the salt and margarine, one piece at a time, then proceed with Step 5.
APPLE ZEPPOLE WITH JELLY DIPPING SAUCE
From Jaime Geller on Joyofkosher.com
Try these apple zeppole as a changeover for doughnuts. The recipe itself is not low-fat, but the portions are bite-sized.
Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Ready Time: 28 minutes
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup all purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 Granny Smith apple (about 1 cup), peeled and diced
Vegetable oil for frying
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 tablespoon orange juice
• In a medium saucepan, heat butter, water, sugar, cinnamon, and salt, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and add flour. Return to low heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Continue to cook for 1 minute.
• Transfer dough to the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low speed with a paddle attachment for 1 minute or until cooled slightly. Add eggs one at a time. Add apple and mix until just combined.
• In a heavy medium-sized pan, heat oil to 350 degrees F on a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Using a 1-teaspoon scoop, carefully drop batter into hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining dough and dust with powdered sugar.
• In a small bowl, whisk together jam and orange juice and serve with zeppole.
Jamie Geller is the only bestselling cookbook author who wants to get you out of the kitchen – not because she doesn’t love food – but because she has tons to do. As “The Bride Who Knew Nothing,” Jamie found her niche specializing in fast, fresh, family recipes. Now hailed as the “Queen of Kosher” (CBS) and the “Jewish Rachael Ray” (New York Times), she’s the creative force behind Joyofkosher.com and Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine. Jamie and her hubby live in Israel with their five busy kids, who give her plenty of reasons to get out of the kitchen – quickly. Check out her new book, Joy of Kosher: Fast, Fresh Family Recipes.