December is such a beautiful time of year when everyone from all different paths of life celebrates their special holiday. We met up with Ted Goldwyn and asked him to share his story about the holiday he celebrates.
The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is so stuffed with the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping, work parties, and signature community events like Corning’s Parade of Lights and Sparkle it is easy to overlook some of the lesser-known celebrations of the season. For that reason, I thank my good friends at Urban Corning for the opportunity to guest blog about one of my favorite holidays, Chanukah.
While popular among Jewish families in the U.S., Chanukah (also spelled “Hanukkah” or “Hannukah”), is far from the most religiously significant holiday on the Jewish calendar. Whereas the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur represent a period of intense, personal reflection and atonement, and Passover (or Pesach) commemorates the biblical story of God liberating the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt, Chanukah pays tribute to a relatively minor military victory.
Perhaps the most succinct description of Chanukah comes from the mouth of the eponymous delicacy in Lemony Snicket’s The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming, in my opinion the G.O.A.T. among children’s Chanukah books:
“The olive oil reminds us of the oil used to rededicate the temple following the defeat of Antiochus at the hands of the Maccabees. The oil was only supposed to last for one night but there was a miracle and it lasted for eight. Plus, frying makes my skin crispy and brown.”
Latkes, by the way, make or break Chanukah. I take over my family kitchen for days each December, frying up batches of these delicious potato pancakes from a simple mixture of shredded potato, matzo meal, onions, and eggs. We also eat other fried treats like jelly donuts to remind us of the miracle of the oil.
My family of five celebrates the Festival of Lights by spending as much time together as possible during this busy season. On each of the eight crazy nights (apologies to Adam Sandler), we light the menorah (a nine-branched candelabra), sing songs, play dreidel, and read stories. Jewish children traditionally receive one gift each night. In my family, we’ve modified this custom slightly: five nights are for gift exchange, one night we bake cookies, one night is devoted to selecting charities, and one night we make “home-made gifts.” Last year we made peanut butter and birdseed pinecone feeders, and hung them in the backyard for our winter guests.
Speaking of gifts, I discovered a few unique Chanukah gift ideas on Corning’s Market Street. If you’re seeking items under $10, check out Card Carrying Books and Gifts, which has a Chanukah display set up near the entrance of the store. The shop also offers Chanukah cards and free Chanukah-design gift wrapping.
If gelt is no object, consider one of the limited selection of custom glass menorahs at The Glass Menagerie. These one-of-a-kind treasures are currently selling at 60% off.
Nothing says “Chanukah” quite like gourmet cooking oil. To that end, the proprietors of Crystal City Olive Oil have designed a custom Chanukah gift basket that will make any self-respecting latke chef blush.
The Southern Tier Jewish community is relatively small, and centered in Elmira, the continuous home of at least one synagogue for over 150 years. Today, Congregation Kol Ami and the Jewish Center and Federation are housed in the same historic building at 1008 West Water Street.
At this year’s Sparkle, the Congregation sponsored a booth, where visitors were treated to jelly donut holes, toy dreidels, and chocolate gelt (coins). Children learned how to play dreidel, and members of the public were invited to attend a Chanukah concert and dinner to be held on Friday, December 15th. (You’re invited too! Reservations are required; please call Congregation Kol Ami at (607) 734-7735 to RSVP.)
I wish you and yours a Happy Chanukah, and a peaceful holiday season!