Sweet Potato Latkes for the Season of Light
When we were children, my brother and I looked forward to Hanukkah with great anticipation. The excitement was all about opening gifts, because Hanukkah had become the gift-giving time of year for modern Jewish families—likely because, falling as it did sometime in December, this Jewish holiday always had proximity on the calendar to Christmas. Rick recalls sneaking into the den closet to examine the wrapped presents hidden there. I fondly remember the Hanukkah when I was given my first plug-in radio so I could listen to all the pop music I wanted in my room with the door closed (which was probably as much a gift for my parents as for me!)
The story of Hanukkah took on greater meaning for me as an adult. This holiday marks an event of valor and grace, the victory of good over evil, and the celebration of a light that fills the darkness. In 168 BC, the Syrian conqueror of Judea (now Israel) massacred thousands of Jews, desecrated the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and forbade Jews to practice their religion. For two years, a group of rebel fighters, led by Judah Maccabee, hid in nearby mountains, attacked with guerilla warfare, and—finally—drove their oppressors out of Jerusalem.
Maccabee and his followers cleaned and restored the Temple as a sacred place for Jewish worship. When they lit the menorah to rededicate the Temple, the story goes that there was only enough oil for the lamp to burn for one night. As an act of faith, they lit it anyway, and the sacred flame burned for eight nights—which was seen as a miracle. To this day, in celebration, iconic songs are sung, proclaiming “A great miracle happened there!”
The Hebrew word hanukkah means “dedication.” During this holiday, Jews are called to rededicate ourselves to freedom for all people everywhere.
As for how latkes became a holiday tradition… well, that’s a story for another Hanukkah!
Wishing you a joyful and safe holiday season!