It’s hard to believe, but Hanukkah is upon us once again. As Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally might say, “I haven’t even finished eating all my Halloween candy!” My kids can barely contain their excitement. “Daddy, how many more days until Hanukkah?” is the constant refrain around the house these days.
Hanukkah in Oregon is indeed an extraordinary experience. There are so many great things for all ages that eight crazy nights hardly seems sufficient. But before we explore the fun, first a little Hanukkah history.
Most Jews are familiar with the bones of the Hanukkah story. In the second century B.C.E. Judah “the Hammer” Maccabee led a ragtag band of misfits to defeat the mighty Syrian army. The defiled Second Temple in Jerusalem was subsequently rededicated, and one day’s supply of oil miraculously lasted for eight. Since those ancient times the Festival of Lights has been commemorated by Jews around the world.
However, during the past century in America, Hanukkah has blossomed into a much more elaborate spectacle than practiced by previous generations. Just how did Hanukkah in America become the holiday we know today?
By the late 19th century, Hanukkah observance in America was in decline. Some Jews were enthusiastically embracing the spirit of Christmas, which alarmed Jewish leaders of the day. As Jenna Weissman Joselit explains in her remarkable book The Wonders of America, “For much of its history, Hanukkah fared poorly in the New World, a victim of neglect.” Yet Hanukkah experienced a dramatic revival during the 20th century. After World War I, American Jews began to reinvent Hanukkah by borrowing from both the more mercantile and the more domestic aspects of Christmas. As a new consumer culture took root, Hanukkah mirrored the conspicuous consumption associated with the American Christmas celebration, itself a relatively recent innovation. As the State of Israel came into being, Hanukkah became grander still by association, as Israeli soldiers were often touted as latter-day Maccabees.
Today, in the 21st century, our own Rose City packs so many events into the eight days of Hanukkah that it is nothing short of miraculous. Most congregations hold Hanukkah parties during the eight days of the festival; contact your local congregation for details. Chabad of Oregon holds two of the best Hanukkah events in Stumptown. The annual menorah lighting in Director Park in downtown Portland is a wondrous sight. The Hanukkah Jewish Celebration Night at the Rose Garden in partnership with the Portland Trail Blazers is a blast. Come cheer on the home team Dec. 10.
Living as we do in Beervana, I look forward to the annual cornucopia of regional holiday beers. Portland’s Lompoc Brewery will again offer their seasonal Hanukkah beer Eight Malty Nights. This decadent Chocolate Rye Porter boasts a roasted chocolate flavor with a sweet finish.
San Francisco’s Shmaltz Brewing Co., proud brewers of kosher He’brew Beers, will again release their holiday gift pack featuring a build-your-own-beer-bottle-menorah kit. This amazing kit includes eight different He’brew beers, a custom glass, Hanukkah candles and instructions to build your menorah. Among the beers will be He’brew’s 16th annual Hanukkah release, Jewbelation Sweet 16 – brewed with 16 malts, 16 hops, a dash of chutzpah and an impressive alcohol content of 16%. As the packaging states, “This Hanukkah the candles won’t be the only thing getting lit!” When your guests gaze upon the light of your beer bottle menorah, they will know that a great miracle happened here.
If you’re looking for a more kid-friendly treat for Hanukkah, look no further than the Beaverton Krispy Kreme for the very best doughnuts around. All doughnuts are certified kosher by Oregon Kosher. As a bonus, you can watch the doughnuts being made through a wall of Plexiglas. Your kids will thrill to the spectacle of doughnuts on the conveyor belt being drowned beneath a cascade of glaze. Fried in oil, Krispy Kremes are the perfect Hanukkah treat!
There are so many Portland restaurants offering fried Hanukkah goodies that you could dine at a different establishment on every night. Kenny and Zuke’s Delicatessen, Kornblatt’s Delicatessen, Baker and Spice, Mother’s Bistro, Elephants Delicatessen and Three Square Grill all offer Hanukkah delights such as latkes, rugelach and Hanukkah cookies. Visit the Sweetness Bakery and Café in Southeast Portland and pick up some iced Hanukkah cookies. Be sure to swing by Sesame Donuts for more fried fun.
Another overlooked gem is the Albertsons on 5415 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy. in Portland. Chock-full of all your holiday needs featuring a kosher deli plus an extensive selection of fresh and frozen kosher foods, Albertsons is your one-stop Hanukkah shop.
Trader Joe’s sells terrific kosher latkes in their freezer section. Their produce section is bursting with local apples. Why not liven up your latkes by making your own applesauce with some Columbia Gorge apples?
However you plan to celebrate the Festival of Lights this year, have a joyous holiday filled with peace, love and latkes.
Top five children’s Hanukkah books:
Hanukkah at Valley Forge by Krensky Harlin: Wonderfully told and beautifully illustrated, this stirring tale of independence and freedom is based on General George Washington’s account of learning about Hanukkah from a Polish soldier at Valley Forge in 1777. Shifting between the time of the Maccabean Revolt and the American Revolution, and using some of George Washington’s own writings as dialogue, this book draws wonderful parallels between the two conflicts. As Washington explains to the Polish soldier over the glow of the Hanukkah lights, “The fight for liberty is an ancient one.”
The Golem’s Latkes by Eric Kimmel: Charming tale of a Golem gone wild. When the Rabbi of Prague must visit the Emperor, he leaves it to his housemaid, Basha, to prepare the house for Hanukkah and make the latkes. The Rabbi allows Basha to work with his Golem, a mythical creature made of clay. “Mix, chop, peel, fry” is the refrain as the complacent Golem labors without cessation. The dull, yet somehow satisfied expression on the face of the Golem as the latkes pile up is priceless. Basha’s acerbic wit and confident incompetence make this book utterly charming.
Runaway Dreidel by Leslea Newman: This exciting and silly tale of a dreidel run amok will delight any young reader.
The Hanukkah Hop by Erica Silverman: Sunny, warm images of happy Hanukkah revelers, fun rhymes and a retro tone come together in this Hanukkah jewel. The sing-song feel of this book will have your little ones doing the Hanukkah Hop in no time.
The Borrowed Hanukkah Latkes by Linda Glaser: This touching tale of a young girl reaching out to her lonely elderly neighbor and helping her share in the joy of Hanukkah teaches children the true spirit of the season.
Top five Hanukkah TV and movie moments:
A Rugrats Chanukah: Whether you have small children or not, this animated classic is definitely worth picking up. The Jewish answer to A Charlie Brown Christmas, this holiday tale skillfully tells the story of Hanukkah through the eyes of the toddler heroes of Rugrats. In 1999 TV Guide praised the special: “The babies acting out their own version of the story is enough to entertain a child of any religious denomination, so learning the historical meaning behind latkes and dreidels is just an added bonus.” As Tommy Pickles would say, “A Macababy’s gotta do what a Macababy’s gotta do.”
The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas: Be sure to watch Jon Lovitz as the beloved Hanukkah Harry from Saturday Night Live on hulu.com or nbc.com. “On Moische, On Herschel, On Schlomo!”
The Hebrew Hammer: When Hanukkah is under attack, only the Hebrew Hammer can save the day. As a latter-day Judah the Hammer, this film’s anti-hero downs shots of “Manischewitz straight up” before dispensing with the bad guys. A clever parody of the blaxploitation movies of the early 1970s, this flick will provide ample laughs as you digest your latkes.
Can I Interest You in Hanukkah: Sung by Jon Stewart to Stephen Colbert on A Colbert Christmas. In 2008 Comedian Stephen Colbert was comically serenaded by Mr. Stewart on the “joys” of Hanukkah, with lyrics such as, “It’s not my least unfavorite time of year.”
Shalom Sesame: Chanukah at Bubbe’s: Muppets and menorahs; really all you need for silly holiday fun.
Top five musical suggestions for your
Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah: The Klezmatics. Woody Guthrie’s second wife and three of his children were Jewish, and he wrote some fine Hanukkah songs in his day. The youngest of these children, Nora, approached The Klezmatics and asked them if they would write music for Woody’s Hanukkah lyrics. The result is nothing short of spectacular.
Barenaked for Hanukkah: The Barenaked Ladies, an EP featuring three songs, including a rousing version of “Hanukkah O Hanukkah.”
Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics: This South Park soundtrack features two of the funniest and most offensive Hanukkah songs ever, and they are definitely for adult ears only. Key tracks: “The Lonely Jew on Christmas” and “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.”
Gods of Fire: Hanukkah Gone Metal: Truly glorious. If Ronnie James Dio were Jewish, this is how he would
The Latke Song: Debbie Friedman: A kid’s favorite with a disco beat. Shake your tuchus to this one!
Honorable Mention: The Chanukah Song Parts I, II, and III: Adam Sandler. The now classic Hanukkah song first performed on Saturday Night Live in 1994. It just isn’t Hanukkah until I hear this tune.
Our December 2012 issue misspelled Shmaltz Brewing Co. We regret the error.