Chanukah with the Spielbergs

When Steven Spielberg and his three sisters were growing up in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Spielbergs celebrated Chanukah like any other Jewish family — well, almost.

“You have to realize that everything in our household was exciting, everything had an edge of hysteria,” says Leah Adler, the ultimate authority on her director son.

One Chanukah, “I decided to do what normal people do and give one gift each night,” says Adler, a 78-year-old pixie of a woman, who reminisces while presiding over The Milky Way, her kosher dairy restaurant in West Los Angeles.

The attempt at normalcy didn’t work, though, mom recalls. “It was a fiasco, because the first night there was a big present, but the next night it was a box of crayons. Steven was so ongeblosen [disappointed] and he said, ‘This is no good.’ From then on, we went back to giving just one big present on the first night.”

Now Spielberg, who turns 52 on Dec. 18, and his wife, Kate Capshaw, have their own blended family of seven children, ranging in age from 1 to 20.

The Spielbergs’ Chanukah begins with dad lighting the menorah, while the whole family joins in for singing. Presents are still a problem, but now it’s because “the younger kids are just inundated with toys,” says Adler. At that point, “Kate takes charge,” reports her mother-in-law. “She sees to it that the kids aren’t overly indulged.”

To wind up the evening, there are “mucho, mucho, mucho potato pancakes,” prepared by Kate and the resident cook.

* Excerpted from the author’s profile of Steven Spielberg in “Jewish Family & Life” (Golden Books, 1997).