I’m Back… and I’ve brought some bread with me!

bread

So folks, first off, mea culpa! It has been way too long since I last posted, but work and life has been hectic. To catch you up on the past few months, we’ve had Chanukah, Tu B’Shevat, Purim and Pesach, all prime food holidays, which I admit, I slacked on. My bad. For those of you who would like, I can pull out some menus and recipes from those days and catch you all up. But onwards and upwards! Since we have just finished Pesach, a holiday of no leavened products, I feel the great desire for some real bread. Not potato starch bread. Not a gluten free concoction (though credit does go out to my gluten-intolerant and Celiac friends, I’ve got your backs too! Check out the posts under the Gluten Free Category). I want real, wheat flour based, bread!

So with that in mind, I dedicate the rest of this week to bread! Our proud quiet companion that supports whatever delicious substance we slap between two pieces of it. Without you bread, we wouldn’t have a sandwich. Thank you.

Feeling Jealous?

JealousySo we’ve already talked about how it’s “traditional” for Jews to go out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve… but what else is there to do? Admittedly, it’s a strange feeling being surrounded by hoards of people all bursting with the holiday spirit, but for me, it’s just a Wednesday. Kind of a let down, no? I get a little jealous when I see the bubbles of joy floating around people as they walk down the street, wearing Santa hats. I like to think that if I celebrated the holiday, I’d go all out! I’d have my tree and Santa hat out by the end of Thanksgiving.

Then I start to think. You know what? I really have nothing to be jealous of. Feelings of goodwill are not limited by religion. Yes, I live in North America, where Christianity is the main religion, and that means that everywhere I go, those are the holidays that will be displayed and celebrated. But that doesn’t mean that MY holidays are ignored. In Toronto, come Rosh HaShannah, Bathurst Street (one of the main thoroughfares of the city) is bedecked in signs wishing everyone a happy new year, and there are ads posted selling schach (leafy roof covering for the Sukkah during the holiday of Sukkot), on every telephone pole. This time of year, there is the annual Chanukah caravan parade, that drives through the main streets of town blaring music and cars decked out with Menorahs lit up on their roofs.

So what does this all mean? It means that even though we are not celebrating tonight, it doesn’t mean that we won’t get our chance. We thank G-d for living in a land such as Canada, where there is the freedom to worship as you desire, and that everyone gets the opportunity to feel that bubble of goodwill; be it tonight, or back in September.

Lighting the Menorah – The 3 of the 4 W’s plus a How for good luck!

Keep Calm - ChanukaSo we’ve discussed why we light the menorah, but how about the who, where and when? And let’s not forget the how! Here’s a break down of the last bits that you need to know to celebrate the holiday. For more, you can always go to to Chabad.org by clicking here. They have everything you could have possibly wanted to know, and more!

Who
Men and women alike are obligated to participate in the menorah lighting. In some families, the head of the household lights the family menorah while everyone else listens to the blessings and answers, “Amen.” In many other families, all members of the household, including children, light their own menorahs. Either way, it is important for everyone to be present and involved when the Chanukah miracle is festively commemorated.

Where
Light the menorah in your own home. If you are travelling out of town, set up your menorah wherever you will be staying for the night. If you will be spending the night in a Jewish home, you have the option of giving your host a dollar or so, a symbolic contribution towards the menorah expenses, and then you are covered by his/her menorah lighting – or better yet, light your own menorah too.Students who live in dormitories or their own apartments should kindle menorahs in their own rooms or in a communal dining area. In places where this is prohibited, a rabbi should be consulted as to where to kindle the menorah. In the home, there are two preferred locations for the menorah. You can set up the menorah in a central doorway. Place it on a chair or small table near the doorpost that is opposite the mezuzah. This way, when you pass through the doorway, you are surrounded by two mitzvot – the mezuzah and the menorah. Ideally, the menorah lights should be between 12 and 40 inches off the ground. Alternatively, you can set up your menorah on a windowsill facing the street.

When
The custom of many communities is to light the menorah shortly after sunset. In other communities, the menorah is kindled after nightfall (approximately thirty minutes after sunset). Either way, the menorah must contain enough fuel to burn for at least thirty minutes after nightfall. Regardless of the custom you follow on other Chanukah nights, on Friday night the menorah is lit before sunset, and on Saturday night it is lit after nightfall.Ideally, you should light the menorah at the earliest possible opportunity. Only delay if you are awaiting the arrival of family members who wish to be present when the menorah is lit. The Chanukah lights may be lit as long as there are people in the streets, or as long as there is another family member awake to participate – but no later than one half hour before dawn. (If no other household member is awake and the streets are already quiet, light the menorah without reciting the blessing.)

How to light the Menorah

  • Arrange the lights on the menorah. Ensure that there is enough oil, or that the candles are big enough, for the lights to burn until half an hour after nightfall (or, if lighting after nightfall, for one half hour). On the first night, set one candle to the far right of the menorah. On the following night, add a second light to the left of the first one, and then add one light each night of Chanukah – moving from right to left.
  • Gather everyone in the house around the menorah.
  • Light the shamash candle. Then hold it in your right hand (unless you are left-handed).
  • While standing, recite the appropriate blessings.
  • Light the candles. Each night, light the newest (left-most) candle first and continue lighting from left to right. (We add lights to the menorah from right to left, while we light from left to right.)

The Blessings
Before lighting the Chanukah candles, we thank G‑d for giving us this special mitzvah, and for the incredible Chanukah miracles:

Hebrew

Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech ha-olam a-sher ki-de-sha-nu be-mitz-vo-tav ve-tzi-va-nu le-had-lik ner Chanukah.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.

Hebrew

Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech ha-olam she-a-sa ni-sim la-avo-te-nu ba-ya-mim ha-hem bi-z’man ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

On the first night of Chanukah, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014 (or the first time on Chanukah you perform this mitzvah), add the following blessing:

ShehecheyanuBa-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-yi-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion

After you finish kindling the menorah lights, place the shamash candle in its designated place on the menorah. At this point it is traditional to sing Chanukah hymns such as Haneirot Halalu and or Maoz Tzur.

For the first half hour after the candles are lit (or until half an hour after nightfall, if the menorah was lit before dark) the menorah should not be transferred from its place. If a flame dies out during this time, it is best to relight it. After this time, the menorah can be moved if necessary, and there’s no need to rekindle extinguished flames.

What Makes a “Kosher” Menorah?

Lit MenorahThere are not very many requirements for a kosher menorah, and most—but not all—of the menorahs on the market are just fine. The basic elements of the menorah are eight candle (or oil) holders, and one more, that is set a bit higher or lower than the rest, for the shamash (attendant) candle.

That said, there are some factors to consider when purchasing a menorah:

  • The Chanukah lights can be either wax candles, or oil-fueled lights. Since the miracle of Chanukah transpired with olive oil—the little jug of oil that lasted for eight days—the oil menorah is preferable to the candle one, and olive oil is the ideal fuel.
  • Whenever purchasing a mitzvah article, we try to buy the most beautiful one that is within our means. So, if at all possible, go for the silver menorah. Beautifying a mitzvah is our way of expressing our appreciation to G‑d, and how dearly we hold His commandments. (A beautiful menorah also makes for a beautiful centrepiece for your silver closet or mantelpiece . . .)
  • The eight candles of the menorah’s lights should be level or on an even slant, not some randomly higher than others.
  • If it is an oil menorah, the oil cups must hold enough oil to burn for at least 1½ hours.
  • Just in case you are considering constructing a mammoth menorah to better publicize the Chanukah miracle, the maximum height of a menorah is around 31 feet. People don’t normally look up higher than that height, and a menorah taller than that wouldn’t serve the intended purpose.

I think that about sums it up… tune in tomorrow to learn about the actual lighting of the menorah. In the mean time, enjoy today’s recipe!

Chanukah Food Traditions

Chanuka FoodsOkay, so I’ve now covered why we eat fried food on Chanukah, and why we eat dairy foods, but why the particular dishes that we associate with Chanukah? Why Latkes? Why Sufganiot (jelly donuts)? There are plenty of foods that fit into the fried/dairy category, so why these ones?

Over time, different Jewish communities throughout the world have found a variety of ways to incorporate both oil and dairy into their Chanukah meals. One of the most famous, Israeli sufganiot, may actually derive from a yeast dough pastry mentioned in the Talmud (the written edition of the oral Torah). These pastries were cooked in oil and called sufganin (absorbent) because they absorbed a lot of oil in cooking. They did not contain milk, but were sweetened and perhaps even filled with honey and the fact that they were cooked in oil led to the pastries becoming a Chanukah staple early on.In Spain, Jews added cheese to these pastries—and from this twist on an old tradition evolved the many cheese doughnuts, fritters, and other fried cheese pastries popular among Sephardim. They may have influenced the cheese pastries popular in some Central European communities as well. A jelly-filled version evolved among German Jews, who brought it with them to the Land of Israel in the 1930’s.

In more Northern communities, where olive oil was scarce and expensive, goose or chicken fat often had to be used for frying. Potato latkes, apple fritters, and other non-dairy fried foods became the norm, although today when olive (or other pareve) oil is affordable and commonly used in preparing latkes, etc., dairy is often added—usually in the form of a dollop of sour cream on top of a latke.

So there you go, you now know the whys, so go and check out the recipes for the hows! Chag Samayach everyone!

Chanukah – Not for the Lactose Intolerant

JudithSo those that have celebrated Chanukah in the past, or are new to it, may have noticed an abundance of dairy dishes on the menu. So continuing on yesterday’s theme, other than being DELICIOUS, why do we eat dairy on this holiday? Well, ladies, get your pride on because it all has to do with one incredibly brave and gutsy woman!

Judith (Yehudis) was a young woman who lived in Bethulia, in the land of Judea, at the time of the war against the Greeks. In the story, Judith, a beautiful widow, is able to enter the tent of the Greek general, Holofernes because of his desire for her. Holofernes’ army was about to destroy Judith’s home, the city of Bethulia. She fed Holofernes an abundance of salty cheese, causing him a great thirst, which of course was answered with wine. Overcome with drink, he passes out and Judith uses the opportunity to decapitate him. She carries his head off in her basket, leaving his tent, while his soldiers stood nearby thinking their general was merely asleep. The next morning, upon finding that their general had been killed, the Greek army fell into disarray and fled.

Not bad, eh? I don’t know if I could have been as brave, or as ruthless. Well, what can I say? Judaism has some pretty tough women! So in memory of Judith’s bravery, we eat dairy products as well. It really is the least we can do, I mean, c’mon, decapitation? That ain’t easy! You go girl!

* photo credit – Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio, painted in 1598-99.

Chanukah – Get Your Oil Ready!

Chanuka LightsAhhh… it’s Chanukah time again! Yes, it’s true, that here in North America Chanukah doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of Christmas, but I still love the whole celebration and festivities. That, and if you’ve ever been fortunate enough to celebrate Chanukah in Israel – Let me tell you, they do it up right! The stores are blasting songs (yes, there are more songs than just the Adam Sandler ones) and having tons of blue and silver tinsel everywhere! And the latkes? The sufganiot (jelly donuts)? Every kind and flavour you can imagine! So what do those two things have in common? (Besides being delicious of course) Oil! Here is one holiday where you are supposed to keep pouring it on! Some may ask why, though, again, other than being delicious.

Most of us are familiar with the miracle of the oil— that one day’s supply of oil lasted for eight days. And we know this is the origin of the mitzvah to light the menorah for eight days. It is also the reason why we have the custom of eating foods cooked in oil. But there are some deeper connections between olive oil and Chanukah.

Mystically, both the menorah and the oil used to light it are associated with Chochmah, wisdom. The war between the Greeks and the Jews was also a war over whose wisdom would endure. The Greeks wanted everyone under their rule to think and study exactly as they did. They were violently opposed to the idea of G‑dly wisdom, and so forbade the study of Torah. Also, the word shemen, Hebrew for oil, contains the same letters as shemoneh, eight, the number of days that the miracle of the oil lasted.

So there you go, you’ve got the miracle and the mysticism, two great reasons to fry up some latkes! And yes, the third reason still stands… They’re DELICIOUS!

*photo credit from discoverjcc.com. For more about your local JCC (Jewish Community Centre) click here.