Members of the “Bnei Menashe” Jewish community in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, India, on their way to the airport, Feb. 12, 2017. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel

These incredible photos show members of an Indian-Jewish ‘lost tribe’ moving to Israel


One hundred and two members of the Jewish community in India, who trace their heritage to one of Israel’s lost tribes, are moving to Israel this week.

The immigrants, who hail from the northeastern Indian state of Mizoram — home to the second largest concentration of the country’s Bnei Menashe community, as they are called — will arrive in Israel on Tuesday and Thursday. The move is being facilitated by Shavei Israel, a nonprofit that seeks to connect “lost” and “hidden” Jews to the Jewish state.

The group plans to live in the city of Nazareth Illit, where other members of their community have already settled. Some 3,000 Bnei Menashe have immigrated to Israel in recent years, with another 7,000 remaining in India.

Members of the “Bnei Menashe” Jewish community in Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, India, Feb. 12. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel

Their move represents the first time in three years that members of the Bnei Menashe community from Mizoram have moved to Israel, according to a statement by Shavei Israel.

Members of the “Bnei Menashe” Jewish community at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, en route to Israel, Feb. 13. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.

“After 27 centuries of exile, this lost tribe of Israel is truly coming home,” said Shavei Israel founder Michael Freund. “But we will not rest until all the remaining Bnei Menashe still in India are able to make aliyah as well.”

Freund, a conservative writer and former aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said his organization was hoping to bring more than 700 Jews from India to Israel this year.

Members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community from across northeastern India gathering in Churachandpur, in the Indian state of Manipur to celebrate Hanukkah, Dec. 8, 2015. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.

 

Members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community from across northeastern India gather in Churachandpur, in the state of Manipur, to celebrate Hanukkah on Dec. 8, 2015. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.

 

Members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community from across northeastern India gather in Churachandpur, in the state of Manipur, to celebrate Hanukkah on Dec. 8, 2015. Photo courtesy of Shavei Israel.

Burger King Israel introduces doughnut burger for Chanukah


Burger King restaurants in Israel have introduced a doughnut burger for the Chanukah season.

The SufganiKing is a Whopper with savory doughnuts in place of buns. Its name is a play on the Hebrew word for doughnuts, sufganiyot, which are ubiquitous on every Israeli street corner in the weeks leading up to Chanukah.

The burger “proves that miracles still happen,” Burger King Israel said in a Facebook post, a reference to the miracles at the heart of the holiday story.

The SufganiKing will be sold for about $4. It will be available through Jan. 1, the last day of Chanukah, according to reports.

Gifts to de-light


These are serious times. We just finished a brutal election cycle here in the United States, and things are as tense and uncertain as ever in the Middle East. What better excuse than Chanukah, then, to relax a little? For those who are interested in passing along a little laugh with some holiday spirit, here are a few fun gift ideas.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Dec. 8-14, 2012


SAT DEC 8

Dana Berger and Dan Toren

Singer-songwriter Berger is likened to an Israeli Joni Mitchell. Toren is an acclaimed songwriter behind some of Israel’s biggest pop hits. The two appear together for an acoustic performance at The Mint. Sat. 9:30 p.m. $45 (presale), $50 (door). The Mint, 6010 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (408) 318-7143. broshproductions.com.


SUN DEC 9 

Kugl Kukh-Off

Calling all kugel aficionados! Whether it’s sweet or savory, the kugel is the ultimate in Jewish-American culinary creativity when it comes to the holiday or family gathering. Today, bring your best kugel (or your favorite tasting fork) to Yiddishkayt’s third quadrennial Kugl Kukh-Off. Part of the Silverlake Independent JCC’s annual Festival of Lights, which features live entertainment and fun for the entire family. Kugel drop-off and registration starts at 11 a.m. and tasting begins at noon. Sun. noon-3 p.m. Kugl Kukh-Off: $2 (all the kugel you can eat and judge). Festival of Lights: free (adults), $15 (children). Silverlake Independent JCC, 1110 Bates Ave., Los Angeles. (213) 389-8880. yiddishkayt.org.

 

L.A. Clippers Jewish Heritage Day

Celebrate Chanukah with the Clippers as they square off against the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center. Pregame warm-ups include a menorah lighting and a Q-and-A with rabbis. The Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble performs at halftime. Your Chanukah gift from the Clippers: a free T-shirt. Sun. 10:30 a.m. (pre-game), 12:30 p.m. (game time). $20-$62. Staples Center, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 742-7503. lajewishchamber.com.

 

A Holiday Celebration of Jewish Stories

Veteran actors Robert Lesser, Richard Fancy, Orson Bean and others bring to life stories by Saul Bellow, Sholem Aleichem, Grace Paley and Bernard Malamud, tracing the modern history of the Jews through fiction. The program includes Bellow’s “A Wen,” Aleichem’s “She Must Marry a Doctor,” Paley’s “The Loudest Voice” and Malamud’s “The Jewbird.” Directed and compiled by Matt Gottlieb. Sun. 2 p.m.; Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. $20. Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. (310) 822-8392. pacificresidenttheatre.com.


MON DEC 10 

Wabash Saxons

Made up of former residents of Boyle Heights and Theodore Roosevelt High School alumni, this social club meets today for its 60th semi-annual luncheon. Former L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti appears as guest speaker. Mon. Noon. Free (lunch not included). Taix French Restaurant, 1911 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. RSVP to (310) 459-3620.


TUE DEC 11

Ronna & Beverly 

Ronna Glickman (Jessica Chaffin) and Beverly Ginsburg (Jamie Denbo) are America’s favorite 50-something Jewish mothers. Between them they have seven marriages, three children, some step-kids they never talk about and a best-selling book, “You’ll Do a Little Better Next Time: A Guide to Marriage and Re-marriage for Jewish Singles.” Tue. 8 p.m. $10. Upright Citizens Brigade, 5919 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 908-8702. losangeles.ucbtheatre.com.


THU DEC 13

Zubin Mehta 50th Anniversary Concert

Celebrating 50 years since he was named music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, world-renowned maestro Mehta conducts the L.A. Phil in a performance of Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni, Hindemith’s Symphony: Mathis der Maler and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s music director for life, Mehta has demonstrated solidarity with the Jewish state throughout his celebrated career. Through Dec. 16. Thu. 8 p.m. $54.50-$187. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown. (323) 850-2000. laphil.com.


FRI DEC 14

Harry Shearer and Judith Owen

Actor-satirist Shearer (KCRW’s “Le Show,” “The Simpsons”) and his singer-songwriter wife, Owen, host “An Evening of Holiday Music and Mirth,” which began as an annual gathering for family and friends but soon grew too large to host at the couple’s home. Mixing traditional and nontraditional holiday music, the public performances have drawn such celebrity guests as Jane Lynch (“Glee”), Weird Al Yankovic and Shearer collaborator Christopher Guest. Who knows who will turn up this year? Fri. 8 p.m. $50. Largo at the Coronet, 366 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 855-0350. largo-la.com.

Shining a new light on the Jewish response to Christmas


From Kung Pao kosher comedy to a swinging Mardi Gras version of the “Dreidel” song, two new Chanukah season releases explore the intriguing, delightful and sometimes perplexing ways in which American Jews have responded to Christmas.

In a book and an audio CD compilation, the holiday season known as the “December dilemma” is seen and heard in a new light. An added bonus: the covers of both are enticing and entertaining.

In the book “A Kosher Christmas” (Rutgers University Press, $22.95) subtitled “'Tis the Season to be Jewish,” Joshua Eli Plaut offers a richly detailed, page-turning read that draws on historical documents and ethnographic research sprinkled with often humorous images and photos.

In his introduction Plaut, a rabbi and scholar, admits to a lifelong fascination with Christmas. The son of a rabbi, he recalls as a young child growing up on Long Island in the 1960s that his mother dutifully took him to sit on Santa's lap every December.

“She was never worried about any influence on me as a child because my family was secure in its Jewish identity,” he writes.

Plaut paints a historical portrait of the shifts in American Jewish attitudes toward Christmas — the only American holiday founded on religion, he notes.

Jews have employed “a multitude of strategies to face the particular challenges of Christmas and to overcome feelings of exclusion and isolation,” he writes, adding that Jews actually have played a crucial role in popularizing Christmas by composing many of the country's most beloved holiday songs.

Plaut treats readers to a chapter on the popular Jewish custom of eating Chinese food on Christmas, a tradition that surprisingly dates back more than a century to Eastern European immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York. One  photo shows a sign in a Chinese restaurant window that thanks the Jewish people for their patronage during Christmas.

In the 1990s, comedian Lisa Geduldig hosted the first Kung Pao Kosher Comedy evening of Jewish stand-up comedy in a San Francisco Chinese restaurant on Christmas. Two decades later the event is still going strong and being replicated in cities across America.

On a more serious note, Plaut reveals a long history of Jewish volunteerism on Christmas, serving the needy and working shifts for non-Jewish co-workers, allowing them to spend the day with family and friends.

Plaut also covers the challenges faced by intermarried families at Chanukah and Christmas. He addresses as well the subject of public displays of religious symbols, with Jews on both sides of the issue.

Jonathan Sarna, the American Jewish historian who wrote the foreword, cautions that the book should not be read merely as a story of assimilation. In a phone conversation with JTA, the prominent Brandeis University professor argues that if that were the case, the book would be about how Jews observe Christmas.

Rather, Plaut chronicles how Jews demonstrate their Jewish identity through alternative ways of acting on Christmas that show them to be Jewish and American. Most significant, Sarna asserts, “A Kosher Christmas” is important because it portrays how two religions are transformed by the knowledge of the other.

The CD, “'Twas the Night Before Hanukkah” ($15.99) is a lively and inspiring music collection gathered by the Idelsohn Society, a nonprofit volunteer organization that aims to celebrate a Jewish musical heritage that may be lost to history.

The two-CD set includes 17 tracks for Chanukah and Christmas — some familiar and others that are lesser known. Performers on the Chanukah disc include Woody Guthrie, Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, Flory Jagoda, Mickey Katz, the Klezmatics and Debbie Friedman. Among the voices that croon and swing on the Christmas disc are The Ramones, Theo Bikel, Dinah Shore, Sammy Davis Jr. and Benny Goodman.

A 31-page booklet of liner notes is a fascinating read of short essays, notes on the songs and colorful reproductions of old Chanukah recordings.

The project started as an effort to present a historical survey of Chanukah music, according to David Katznelson, a veteran record producer who is one of the four principals of the Idelsohn Society. Other members of the core group include Roger Bennett, Courtney Holt and Josh Kun.

As their search deepened, they found noteworthy Chanukah recordings, Katznelson recalls, some by well-known performers, others by little-known singers and educators. But the group was most struck by the abundance of Christmas music by Jewish composers and performers.

“The biggest Jewish names in music have at least one Christmas recording in their catalog,” they write in the liner notes.

The group shifted the lens of their project to tell the full story “of how American Jews used music to negotiate their place in American national culture,” according to the liner notes.

“This was an amazing way to look at Jewish identity in the 20th century, through a combination of the history of Chanukah recordings side by side with Jews performing Christmas songs,” Katznelson affirms.

Some of the earliest Chanukah recordings appear in the 1920s and 1930s. By then, what had been a minor Jewish holiday through the later years of the 19th century had been transformed into a major celebration that was promoted by Jewish religious leaders and embraced by American Jewry.

The emergence of Chanukah recordings parallels that transformation, Katznelson suggests. In the postwar 1950s, in addition to traditional songs, livelier recordings targeted children.

On the Chanukah recording, Katznelson points to “Yevonim” (The Greeks) by Rosenblatt as the showstopper. Rosenblatt, a Ukraine native who immigrated to New York in 1912 at the age of 30, became known in the U.S. as the greatest cantor of his time.

A Yiddish song about the Chanukah oil that burned for eight days, “Yevonim” opens with a chorus of women followed by Rosenblatt's huge, haunting rich tenor full of color and warmth.

Many will be surprised by Guthrie's upbeat version of “Hanukkah Dance,” part of his 1940s collection of Jewish songs made for Moses Asch, founder of Folkways Records.

“He can take anything and make it American,” Katznelson says of the late folk legend, whose centennial birthday this year is being marked by performances of his music across the country.

Sure to be a party favorite is the version of “Dreidel” performed live by Jeremiah Lockwood, Ethan Miller and Luther Dickinson. The song was recorded live at a pop-up Chanukah record store concert hosted last year in San Francisco by the Idelsohn Society.

At the end of the song, the trio takes off into the New Orleans classic “Iko Iko,” sung to the tune of “Dreidel.” The tune no doubt will get listeners off the couch, singing and dancing.

On the Christmas CD, Katznelson is most drawn to Bikel's little-known 1967 recording of “Sweetest Dreams Be Thine.” Bikel, the beloved Jewish folk singer and actor, performs the Christmas song moving between Hebrew and English.

“It's the quintessential track of the whole compilation,” Katznelson says. “It's just Chanukah and Christmas, side by side, a perfect mishmosh.”

Katznelson says the society hopes the music conveys a deeper sense of Jewish history while raising questions that provoke conversation about the meaning of the holiday music.

Some may hear familiar songs in a new perspective, he says.

“This is music that is usually in the background,” Katznelson says. “We're bringing it to the foreground.” 

A Brentwood Country Club Chanukah [RECIPES]


Chef Brett Swartzman is a chef with passion. The Chicago native started working in his parents’ Jewish bakery when he was 10 years old, making bagels, muffins, cookies, challah and sandwiches.

Chanukah was always a big celebration at his grandparents’ home. Coming from a big family, there was always a kids’ table, and because there were so many cousins, Swartzman sat there until he was 17 years old. But while his cousins were busy playing dreidel, he was in the kitchen, helping his grandmother fry latkes.

This year will be his first preparing Chanukah dinner for the Brentwood Country Club.

His experience goes far beyond what he learned from his bubbe. Swartzman went from prep cook to line cook at a Marriott hotel, but decided he needed more training and enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. There he received an associate degree in culinary arts and an additional certification in baking and pastry arts. 

Returning home to Chicago, Swartzman landed a job as sous chef at the Deer Path Inn in Lake Forest, Ill. His first executive chef job was at Rolling Green Country Club in Arlington Heights, Ill., where he met his future wife, Sheila Wu, the pastry chef.

Upon moving to California, Swartzman continued his career at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach. Then this young, ambitious and accomplished chef with more than 15 years of food preparation, catering, banquets, à la carte and fine dining experience was offered the position of executive chef at the Brentwood Country Club.

More than 350 guests are expected on Dec. 9. for Swartzman’s first Chanukah event at the Brentwood. A special holiday menu will be served buffet style, with a special buffet table for the kids. 

When asked what Chanukah celebrations were like when he was growing up in Chicago, Swartzman explained that the holiday always centered around food, especially the traditional dishes. His grandmother prepared foods fried in olive oil: potato latkes served with applesauce; zucchini latkes; kreplach; sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and beef brisket with tzimmes. But the family’s favorite was kishke, a dish he is still trying to perfect.

Everyone at the Brentwood loves his chopped liver. The secret ingredient is lots of chicken shmaltz, and he suggests using a meat grinder rather than a food processor for a coarser texture.

His family’s influence continues to live on in other ways. Swartzman’s mom is a pastry chef at Lake Forest Place, a retirement community in Lake Forest, Ill., and he still uses her recipes for mandelbread, coconut macaroons and rugelach.

 

CHEF BRETT SWARTZMAN’S 

2012 CHANUKAH MENU

 

BRETT’S CHOPPED LIVER

1 pound fresh chicken livers

1 medium onion, sliced

1/2 cup shmaltz

5 hard-boiled eggs

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Rye bread 

1/4 cup chopped

        white onions, for garnish

1 or 2 hard-boiled

       eggs, sieved, for garnish

Sauté livers in 1/4 cup shmaltz until cooked through. Caramelize the sliced onions in the remaining 1/4 cup shmaltz until golden brown. While livers and caramelized onions are still warm, place in food processer or meat grinder, add hard-boiled eggs, salt and peppers; pulse until thoroughly combined. Do not overmix. Chill. Serve with rye bread, chopped onions and sieved eggs.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

 

BEEF BRISKET

1 whole beef brisket 

      (deckle on)

Salt and black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups red wine

3 carrots, diced

3 onions, diced

8 ribs celery, diced

5 garlic cloves, chopped

1 (15-ounce) can diced 

      tomatoes, undrained

4 sprigs fresh thyme

4 sprigs fresh rosemary

Chicken stock

 

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Season the whole untrimmed brisket liberally with salt and pepper. Then, over high heat, sear the brisket in olive oil in a roasting pan until deep golden brown. Deglaze pan with red wine, then add carrots, onions, celery, garlic, undrained tomatoes, thyme, rosemary and enough chicken stock to come halfway up the sides of the brisket. 

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven for 3 hours. Turn brisket over, cover and continue cooking for another 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the brisket. 

Check for doneness with a cooking fork — it should slide easily in and out of the brisket. If it feels like the brisket is holding onto the fork, it’s not done yet. Once done, remove brisket from braising liquid and let rest for 45 minutes. 

Meanwhile, strain the braising liquid and skim off the excess fat. This will be the gravy. After the brisket has rested, trim it of excess fat, then slice the brisket against the grain. 

Makes 8 to 10 servings. 

 

BLACK LENTILS AND RICE WITH SHMALTZ AND ONIONS

1 cup cooked black beluga lentils

1 or 2 bay leaves

2 cups cooked white rice

1 medium onion, diced

1/4 cup shmaltz

Fresh chopped thyme

Salt and white pepper, to taste

Place the lentils in a small saucepan with 3 cups water. Add bay leaves. Simmer slowly until the lentils are just done, al dente, about 20 minutes. 

Caramelize the onion in the shmaltz, cooking until deep golden-brown. Add chopped thyme; cooked lentils and cooked rice. Season with salt and pepper.

Can be made ahead of time and reheated in an ovenproof dish.

Makes 6 servings.

 

POTATO LATKES WITH GRANNY SMITH APPLESAUCE


2 potatoes, peeled, shredded, 

       rinsed and drained

1/2 medium onion, shredded

2 eggs

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper, to taste

Shmaltz or oil for frying

Serve with Granny Smith Applesauce 

      (recipe follows)

Combine shredded potatoes, onions, eggs, flour, salt, pepper and flour; mix well. Heat shmaltz or oil in skillet. Drop potato mixture by large spoonsful into schmaltz; fry until golden brown on both sides; drain on paper towels. Can be made ahead of time and reheated in the oven on a cookie sheet. Serve with Granny Smith Applesauce.

Makes 18 to 20 latkes.

 

GRANNY SMITH APPLESAUCE

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, 

      cored and diced

1 cup sugar

Juice and zest of 2 lemons

1 vanilla bean, split

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a wide-based pot. Simmer over low heat until apples are falling apart and liquid is reduced, about 1 hour. Remove vanilla bean, transfer apple mixture to food processor, and blend until smooth. Refrigerate.

Makes 2 to 3 cups.

 

SUFGANIYOT (JELLY DOUGHNUTS)

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 F)

Sugar

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, 

      room temperature

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons salt

Vegetable oil

1 cup seedless raspberry jam

In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Place flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center; add eggs, yeast mixture, 1/4 cup sugar, margarine, nutmeg and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a sticky dough forms. On a well-floured work surface, knead until dough is smooth, soft and bounces back when poked with a finger, about 8 minutes (add more flour if necessary). Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch-round cutter or drinking glass, cut 20 rounds. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise 15 minutes.

In deep saucepan over medium heat, heat 3 cups oil until a deep-frying thermometer registers 370 F. Using a slotted spoon, carefully slip 4 dough rounds into oil. Fry until golden, about 40 seconds. Turn doughnuts over; fry until golden on other side, another 40 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer rounds to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Roll in sugar while warm. Repeat with remaining dough rounds, frying in oil and rolling in sugar. 

Fit a pastry bag with a No. 4 tip and fill bag with jam. When doughnuts are cool enough to handle, make a small hole in the side of each doughnut with a wooden skewer or toothpick, fit the pastry tip into hole, and pipe about 2 teaspoons jam into doughnut. Repeat with remaining doughnuts and jam. 

Makes 14 to 16 doughnuts.

Books that make perfect Chanukah gifts


This season’s crop of Chanukah books for kids brings us welcome reissues of two old favorites, along with a colorful multicultural tale welcoming a new baby. For older youths, an outstanding graphic novel may be just the right kind of gift. And somehow, once again, some prehistoric pals have managed to get in on the holiday fun. 

The good news is that “Jeremy’s Dreidel” (Kar-Ben Publishing) by Ellie Gellman, has been updated and re-released after 20 years. Parents and teachers never tired of sharing this classic 1992 Chanukah story on account of the emotional wallop it delivers and the discussions that inevitably followed. Unfortunately, the original story started to feel a bit dated. Now we can all thank Kar-Ben publishers for requesting that Gellman take a fresh look at her previous work. She cleverly tightened the narrative, and a new illustrator, Maria Mola, was found who attractively reimagines the artwork. 

The story revolves around a youngster named Jeremy who attends a dreidel-making workshop at his local JCC. Even though the other kids are coming up with unusual ideas for their dreidel projects, Jeremy is sticking with a simple ball of clay and molding little dots onto the sides. Does he know a secret code? It turns out Jeremy’s father is blind and this dreidel is meant to be a special gift for his dad. Interesting information about dreidels, Chanukah, Braille and how blind people use modern technology is seamlessly interwoven within the narrative. The wonderful idea to reimagine this 20-year-old picture book now enables a new generation of kids to think a bit more about how a diverse community can celebrate holidays together in meaningful ways.


“Maccabee Meals: Food and Fun for Hanukkah” (Kar-Ben) by Judye Groner and Madeline Wikler and illustrated by Ursula Roma has also been reissued, and it is full of fun facts and simple recipes children will enjoy. Here’s one for starters: “The first day of Hanukkah and Christmas day coincide once every 38 years. The next time it will happen will be in 2016.” Such valuable trivia, along with delightful and simple recipes, can be found in this new addition to the Chanukah bookshelf. The thin paperback cookbook also includes such information as the candle-lighting blessings in English and Hebrew, dreidel trivia, table crafts and decoration ideas. 

This is another clever do-over of an old favorite from 20 years ago written by the same authors. Of course, you will find simple recipes for cookies, latkes and sufganiyot, but have your kids ever considered spooning shredded potatoes into a heated waffle iron, baking them for brunch and topping them with yogurt? Certainly preschoolers would happily busy themselves preparing a menorah sandwich — cream cheese or peanut butter on bread, eight pretzel-stick candles, one carrot-stick shamash and nine raisins as flames. Plus, who needs those store-bought chocolate coins when you have a recipe to make your own gelt and have more fun? So if you’re noticing your young chefs are watching too many Food Network shows, maybe you’ll find a plate of chicken latkes, hero sandwiches or hot dog mini-kabobs at your next Chanukah celebration by leaving the preparations to them.


“Room for the Baby” (Random House) by Michelle Edwards and illustrated by Jana Christy poses the question: What do you do when a new baby is coming, but there’s just no place to put her? The sewing room would be a perfect baby’s bedroom, but that’s also the room where Mom saves stuff — and lots of it. There are stacks of worn-out sheets, boxes of leftover yarn, various bolts of flannel and a wide variety of other odds and ends. Luckily, Mom is blessed with creative talent and nine months of ideas. As the queen of recycling, she (along with helpful neighbors) snips, sews and knits, and by the time the baby is born, on the third night of Chanukah, the little one has stacks of tiny sleepers, diapers and toys, along with a decorative, repurposed room.  

The author depicts members of a joyous Jewish family whose daily lives revolve around the Jewish calendar. They bake challah for Shabbat and dip apples in honey for the New Year, while living happily in a multicultural city neighborhood where everyone is willing to help each other out. The bright, amusing illustrations reflect the same use and reuse of various funky fabrics and textures as the storyline champions. The marvelous art of the endpapers includes colorful fabrics, spools of thread, yarn, baby onesies, menorahs and apples with honey — all things that will surely attract young children. This charming book melds the pleasures of Jewish family life with the excitement of anticipating the arrival of a new baby.


Huge colorful illustrations of mischievous dinosaurs grace each page of “How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah?” (Blue Sky Press) by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague. Those with vast dino-knowledge will recognize such beasts as the dracorex, nodosaur and scelidosaurus — creatures seemingly in need of instruction regarding proper Jewish holiday etiquette as they interrupt the prayers, blow out candles and peek under the bed in search of gifts. By the time the eight nights are over, however, these dinosaurs have learned to take turns with the dreidel, clear away dishes and behave properly. 

The text is simple and rhythmic, but the stars of the pages are those signature, oversize dinosaurs by Teague. Kids will get a Chanukah primer while happily memorizing Paleolithic terms, and parents of little ones will recognize a bit of familiarity in the dinosaurs’ entertaining antics.


Those looking for a gift for kids who like comics and adventure stories can’t go wrong with “Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite” (Amulet) by author/illustrator Barry Deutsch. This highly anticipated sequel to the 2010 Sydney Taylor Award-winning graphic novel has nothing to do with the holiday of Chanukah, but it would certainly make a fabulous gift. Deutsch continues the zany exploits of brave Mirka (the 11-year-old troll-fighting Orthodox Jewish girl), who is back with a new adventure featuring a six-legged-troll, a witch and a talking meteorite. And … believe it or not, the entire full-color comic fantasy co-exists naturally within a completely authentic portrayal of the Orthodox Jewish experience. 

Although our imperfect heroine was grounded for her sword fighting chronicled in the first book, “How Mirka Got Her Sword,” now she’s back and ready for more. After losing a difficult game of chess to her wise stepmother, Fruma, Mirka is challenged to “imagine the person you want to become someday.” A few misguided decisions eventually lead her to battle her own doppelganger — a rogue meteorite that has been turned into Mirka’s twin by the funky village witch. Kids will love the zany plot and the brilliance of the art that proves superior at conveying typical childhood emotions with great empathy. What a treat to have Mirka back! Parents and relatives of 9- to 12-year-olds of any denomination who like comics, reading or action surely won’t go wrong by picking up the first two volumes of this witty and popular new series for middle-grade readers. 


Lisa Silverman is the director of the Sinai Temple Blumenthal Library.

In defense of acquiring material things


Every year around Christmas and Chanukah time, writers, commentators, pundits and many rabbis, priests and ministers exhort Americans against spending money on things. We are too materialistic, we are told every year. Happiness, not to mention a meaningful life, depends on our having non-material things, not material things.

Thus, Americans are told to spend little or nothing on holiday gifts. Give your children love and time, we are told, not train sets (are they still given?), dolls or electronic devices.

The problem is, this advice is built on platitudes. And as is always the case with platitudes — or they wouldn’t be platitudes — the words sound nice but mean very little.

Before defending material things, let me make clear where I do agree with the joy-deniers. First, there is no question that no material thing can compete with love, religion, music, reading, health and other precious non-material things. And second, experiences contribute more to happiness than things do. If you only have x amount of money to spend on yourself, traveling to new places is usually more contributive to happiness than a better car. When I had almost no money through my early 30s, I still traveled abroad every year — which meant that I could only afford an inexpensive car. I have now visited a hundred countries, and that has given me more meaning and happiness than a luxury car or any other material thing.

But having said all that, material things matter. They can contribute a great deal to a happier and more meaningful life.

A grandmother once called in to my radio show to tell me that instead of giving her grandchildren Christmas gifts, she wrote each of them a special poem. I respectfully suggested to the obviously sweet woman that I could not imagine any normal child preferring a poem to a material gift.

With all my love of family, of friends, of music and of the life of the mind, I have always loved material things, too. On any happiness scale, it would be difficult to overstate how much joy my stereo equipment has given me since high school. I so love music that I periodically conduct orchestras in Southern California. And I now own a system that is so good that its offerings sound only a bit less real than what I hear from the conductor’s podium. I bless the engineers and others who design stereo products, and it is my joy to help support their noble quest of reproducing great music in people’s homes.

Since high school, too, I have written only with fountain pens. Buying new pens and trying out new inks are among the little joys of life that contribute as much — and sometimes more — to one’s happiness than the “big” things. There is incomparable joy at attending a child’s bar mitzvah or wedding. But those great events last a day. I write with a beloved fountain pen every day, listen to music every day, smoke a pleasure-giving cigar or pipe every day (except Shabbat, for the halachically curious). I love these things. What a colorless world it would be without them. So, too, I love my house. And I love the artwork and furniture and library that help to make it beautiful.

Sure, I could write with a 29-cent Bic. Yes, I could hear great music on a $50 radio. Of course I could give up cigars. Certainly, I didn’t have to buy the 5,000 books and 3,000 classical music CDs I own, and I understand that I don’t need to live in a house when my “needs” could have been met in an apartment a third its size.

But, thank God, most Americans don’t think that way. We like things. And liking things doesn’t mean you love less or read less or appreciate sunsets less. Life isn’t a zero-sum game between free joys and purchased joys. Moreover, the American economy and that of most other nations depend on our buying considerably more than our minimum needs.

Can people overdo purchasing things? Of course they can. People can also overdo taking vitamins, exercising and even reading books or studying Talmud.

So, then, when do we need to control our buying things?
a) When it becomes a compulsion — when one cannot stop buying things because the buying gives more pleasure than the things that are bought.
b) When the primary purpose of the purchase is to impress others with one’s wealth.
c) When one cannot afford what one is buying.

But beyond those caveats, don’t let the killjoys get you down. “Work hard and play hard,” my father always said (and still does at 93). When he bought a new Oldsmobile every few years, the family stepped outside the house to marvel at it — and even as kids we understood this was his reward for working all day and many evenings six days a week.

May your holidays be filled with lovely gift receiving and giving and may your New Year be filled with both wonderful experiences and wonderful things. Both contribute to a fuller and happier life.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project
is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Candle power


Anyone familiar with religious practices can testify to the fact that candles play a crucial role in normative observance for many religions. It is not surprising to find an identical phenomenon in Judaism, the mother of so many contemporary beliefs.

In our practice, candles are present at almost every festive occasion. Perhaps, however, the two most familiar to us are the Shabbat candles and Chanukah candles. Yet if we examine the purpose of each, they not only serve different purposes, they are fundamentally separate from one another.

The Talmud teaches that Shabbat candles were instituted to create an atmosphere of tranquility within the home (Shabbat 23b). By illuminating the Shabbat table, the lights help prevent distress or bickering that darkness might promote. In the opinion of Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher, the tranquility that the Shabbat lights provide is so crucial that if one has only enough money to buy either a candle for Shabbat or wine for Kiddush, he must first purchase the Shabbat candle.

Chanukah lights are strikingly different from Shabbat lights. They serve not to emphasize private family tranquility, but rather to proclaim the miracle of the holiday to the public. Chanukah lights symbolize the entire drama of the Chanukah story, of the few overcoming the many, of the weak defeating the strong and, as such, constitute a public declaration to impress upon as many people as possible that the Almighty performed great miracles on our behalf. Therefore, Maimonides noted, “The commandment of Chanukah lights is precious since it publicizes the miracle and enhances the praise of God for all He did for us.”

Strangely, although both commandments to kindle lights seem to serve separate if not opposite purposes, the Talmud paradoxically appears to lump them together in the remark of Rav Huna, who said: “He who habitually practices the lighting of the lamp will possess scholarly children” (Shabbat 23b). This statement seems puzzling to us on two accounts. First, to what does the word “lamp” refer? Second, what is the meaning of the term “scholarly children”? The classical medieval commentator, Rashi, provides some clues.

Wondering to which “lamp” the Talmud was referring, Rashi surprisingly concludes that it was to both the Shabbat and Chanukah lights. Rashi, of course, felt no need to elucidate “scholarly children” since, for almost all generations of Jews, as People of the Book, the highest accolade has been the term “scholar,” which encompasses everything honorable, virtuous and worthwhile.

Obviously, Rashi recognized that the Shabbat and Chanukah lights shared a common denominator, and that both provide an educational message. Children are not raised in a vacuum. The first influence on their maturation process is their family environment. If within the family mutual respect, peace and tranquility prevail, the child has a chance to become an honorable Jew.

Rashi, however, recognizes that Judaism isn’t experienced only in the private domain as celebrated by the Shabbat lights. Rather, our faith promotes participation in public life as the Chanukah lamp vividly symbolizes. We place our Chanukiyah in our windows for public display that everyone can see.  On Chanukah we aren’t simply private citizens; we have a community mission to inform others of God’s presence.

In this manner, Chanukah provides us with two crucial lessons. On the one hand, it teaches us not to practice Judaism only behind closed doors. We must be willing to proudly wear our Judaism in public. On the other hand, Chanukah teaches us a feeling of community responsibility. We must not only concern ourselves with our own religious development, but also with the community at large.

Rashi, therefore, understood that the fusion of the private lesson of the Shabbat lights that illuminate not just the table but the children educated at and by that table, combined with the message of the public Chanukah lamps that can inspire faith and freedom for all people everywhere, offer us a complete picture of Judaism.

Elazar Muskin is senior rabbi of Young Israel of Century City (yicc.org), an Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson area.

The Hanukkah Song: A 2011 update


Bill Funt parodies Adam Sandler’s holiday gem, “The Hanukkah Song.”

Grown-up gelt


All around the Jewish world, Chanukah is chocolate season. But that doesn’t have to mean you’re stuck with the waxy chocolate coins known as gelt. In fact, a new wave of boutique chocolate makers in Israel are redefining this beloved indulgence in Israel. Many of their skillfully crafted products are already available in the United States. One taste and it’s clear: Gelt has grown up.

Holy Cacao

This new guard of chocolatiers, contributing a reported $5.3 million to Israel’s domestic $40 million market, are savvy business owners and gourmands. Among them, only one — Joe Zander — imports whole cacao beans, working with the raw material from start to finish. This New Jersey native resides about 40 minutes outside of Jerusalem, in the Southern Chevron Hills, and like his comrades in chocolate, he is the definitive Israeli chocolatier: independent and artisan. Zander maintains his own piece of land in Peru, where he cultivates organic beans. Akin to the layered flavors of wine, his 72 percent Peruvian chocolate reveals delicious, complex, fruity hints of berries. His Dominican is darker, richer, more coffeelike. His 56 percent contains imperceptible ground hazelnuts that lighten and sweeten each bite.

Zander’s Holy Cacao label features sketches of the machinery used to make chocolate from bean to bar: a roaster, mill, conche and winnower. Seasonally, Zander makes truffles in a wide variety of flavors. Currently, he markets his wares online and through in-person individual sales in Israel, with plans to export on the horizon. holycacaochocolate.com.

Sweet N’Karem

Less than an hour’s drive from Zander’s base of operations, Sima Amsalem handcrafts chocolate in a pastoral setting within Jerusalem. Ein Karem is an ancient neighborhood resembling a Tuscan village. Amsalem’s brand, Sweet N’Karem, is a tasty homage to this beautiful setting. This self-professed chocolate addict leads a small but critical team of three women chocolatiers. Together, they produce about 40 kilograms of dark, milk and white chocolate pralines, truffles and bars each month in a former Crusader building with thick stone walls and arches. In addition to high-cacao content pieces, there are liqueur infusions and other fresh ingredients, including marzipan, whole nuts and dried fruit. Everything is packaged with the whimsical logo: a truffle fairy resting on a massive chocolate pod. The self-educated Amsalem also leads workshops for groups of 10 to 20 people seeking to learn how to make chocolates at home. Visitors also personalize Sweet N’Karem products for bar mitzvahs, weddings, corporate events and more. Minutes away, the Chocolate House retail shop at 2 Mevo HaShaar offers coffee, ice cream, gifts and more. 2eat.co.il/sweetnkarem.

Chocoholique

Chocolate that goes down easy is the sole aim of Chocoholique, a cottage industry that began when former chef Marc Gottlieb tasted an inferior homemade version of chocolate liqueur. Inspired to make his own libation, this 2006 immigrant from Cedarhurst, N.Y., showed off his creation to his friend and neighbor, Shimona Gotlieb. It was so delicious that, soon after, the pair launched Chocoholique. In two and half years, “Gottlieb & Gotlieb” have introduced eight pareve, mehadrin flavors. Top seller Peanut Butter is a boozy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Intense Chocolate is made with 60 percent cacao content. And in all flavors, the alcohol level is kept low, just 7 percent, to ensure the alcohol’s astringency doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the chocolate. Other than acknowledging that it is sourced from various bars, the pair keeps their provenance confidential. Keep your eyes peeled for imports — Chocoholique plans to launch in the United States at Kosherfest 2012. chocoholique.com.

Galita’s Chocolate Farm

Galit Alpert founded her namesake Galita’s Chocolate Farm in 1999 with methods she acquired during three years’ training in Belgium. Consumed by chocolate’s flavor and texture, Alpert set up shop in a beautiful stone building that once housed the historic Kibbutz Degania Bet’s first cow shed 85 years ago. The Galita chocolateria boasts an extensive line of products, family-friendly guided tours, a coffee and homemade ice cream bar and chocolate-making workshops for all ages. Nestled amid banana groves and green lawns near the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Galita’s embodies Alpert’s nine reasons to love chocolate: for health, soul, energy, childhood memories, relaxation, joy, desire, love and for yourself — as outlined on her charming (Hebrew-language) Web site, galita.co.il.

De Karina Artisan Gourmet Chocolates Handmade Mountain Chocolate

Tucked away in a small “chocolate house” in the Golan Heights town of Ein Zivan, De Karina Artisan Gourmet Chocolates surprises the palate with a hint of South American flavor. Named for its founder, Argentine immigrant Karina Cheplinski, this third-generation chocolatier incorporates subtle tastes and contrasting flavors, carrying on the tradition of her grandfather, an emigrant from Europe. Her factory features a coffee shop, guided tours, tastings and workshops on tempering, making truffles and other mouth-watering adventures in chocolate-making. Advance reservations required. de-karina.co.il.

Roy Chocolate

When Roy Gershon grew tired of working in technology management positions, he turned his zeal to creating Roy Chocolate. He operates a factory, a flagship store in Tel Aviv and another in Ramat Gan’s Ayalon Mall. Greshon also supplies franchises in Rishon L’Zion, Afula, Cinema City, Haifa and Jerusalem with more than 100 flavors of pralines, truffles and intense liqueurs in innovative bottles. There are also fun gifts galore: chocolate hearts on cinnamon sticks ready to melt into hot chocolate, LoveCakes filled with ganache, gorgeous French macaroons, cupcakes topped with chantilly cream, chocolate lollipops with romantic sayings and much more in pareve, dairy, and lactose- and sugar-free varieties. Each week, Gershon also conducts several workshops around Israel. roychocolate.co.il.

Ornat

In Gush Tel Mond, in the Lev HaSharon industrial area near Netanya, Ornat considers itself the grandparent of Israel’s handmade chocolates. Established in 1987 by the La’or and Ronat families in the tradition of Dutch chocolate making, it ships pralines around the world, personalizing them for special events and corporate clients. The Ornat company operates a visitors center. Guests ages 6 and older are welcome for tours and chocolate-making workshops. cho.co.il.

Max Brenner

Though once handcrafted, Max Brenner’s “Chocolate by the Bald Man,” was acquired in 2001 by Strauss Group, which, in 2004, also merged with Elite, Israel’s leading mass-market brand. The bald man is a composite creation of founders Max Fichtman and Oded Brenner. Visit their Willy Wonka-inspired Chocolate Bar in Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall and other locations around the world for signature products such as high-impact “cigarette packs” containing almost equally addictive wafer-thin bars and chocolate-covered caramelized pecans in colorful, reusable gift tins simply labeled “Nuts.” Of course, there are also pralines in a wide variety of flavors, including sea salt, as well as truffles and scrumptious creamy/crunchy “Feuilletine Fingers.” Innovative menu items include chocolate pizza topped with milk and white chocolate (and optional banana slices, melted marshmallows and whipped cream), a speckled “Cookieshake” of Oreos, carmelized pecans and white-chocolate creme, a “cappuccino of milk chocolate” and the not-to-be-missed, pudding-like Italian hot dark chocolate. Worth every calorie. maxbrenner.com, max-brenner.co.il.

Chanukah fare with international flair


Around this time of year, I think of my grandmother and the stories she told me about making beef brisket and potato latkes for her first Chanukah dinner in America. She loved to cook, and sharing her recipes from Russia brought her such delight.

Chanukah, often called the festival of lights, is a joyous holiday that is celebrated at home instead of taking place in the synagogue. Families light candles and enjoy the traditional foods that are fried in oil, recalling the miracle that occurred in ancient times, when a one-day supply of oil burned in the Temple for eight days.

For many years, we shared Gramma Eva’s brisket recipe with friends at our Chanukah meals, but as our food focus changed, so too did the menu. One year, we served meatloaf and cabbage borscht. After a trip to Brazil, we had a feijoada stew for our Chanukah family dinner, and last year, the main course was fried chicken.

This year, we are going back to our traditional Chanukah fare, but with a few additions. I am roasting Beef Brisket With Prunes in a Wine Sauce, almost like a tzimmes, and serving it with an Italian-inspired green tomato marmalade and crisp potato latkes.

I still remember using a hand-held grater to help my mother make the potato mixture for the latkes. Today, the food processor cuts down on the time it takes to prepare the old family recipe. To make the latke batter in minutes, use the food processor’s knife blade to chop the onions and the shredder blade to grate the potatoes, and then just add them to a bowl with the remaining ingredients.

We begin frying the latkes when family and friends arrive at our home; meanwhile, our grandchildren spin the dreidel, a game that dates back to ancient times. Before dinner, as the guests exchange greetings, we serve Fried Zucchini Sticks. Then we sit down to a salad of shredded lettuce tossed with sliced tomatoes, fresh fennel and topped with fried parsnip chips. The main course — brisket, green tomato marmalade and potato latkes — is served family style, and everyone helps themselves.

Carrying out the Chanukah theme for dessert, we serve homemade jam-filled doughnuts, which everyone loves. Served in many countries during the holiday, they take on different names. In Israel, they are known as sufganiyot; in Italy they are called bombolini, and in Poland they refer to them as ponchiks. No matter what they are called, they are delicious. Simply fry the doughnuts, roll in sugar and serve them with a bowl of melted chocolate for dipping.

The doughnuts can be made in advance, and stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Before serving, just reheat and roll in sugar. Make an extra batch for your guests to take home — they are delicious for breakfast the next day.

But the party is not over. After dessert, everyone returns to the living room, where the gifts wrapped in colorful Chanukah paper are waiting to be opened by the children.


GREEN TOMATO MARMALADE
From “Italy Cooks,” by Judy Zeidler.

If you saw the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes,” you may think the only way to cook green tomatoes is to fry them. The truth is they also make a wonderful marmalade that’s a perfect accompaniment to the brisket and potato latkes.

While living in Italy we were invited to a cooking class at Nittardi Winery in Tuscany taught by Kalus Trebes, chef/owner of Gargantua Restaurant in Frankfurt, Germany. He shared this recipe. It is so versatile that I always keep a jar in the refrigerator. Not only is it delicious on toast or a frittata for breakfast, it is also a perfect accompaniment to meat or chicken.

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
8 cups diced green tomatoes (2 pounds)
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, heated
Grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon

In a large, heavy skillet, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar begins to turn golden. Add the tomatoes, heated orange juice and zest. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and the liquid has reduced to a thick syrup, about 30 minutes. Cool.

Makes about 3 to 4 cups.


BEEF BRISKET ROASTED WITH PRUNES IN A WINE SAUCE

This roast is best served well done. It is important to slice the cooked meat against the grain.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 onions, thinly sliced
1 (6- to 8-pound) lean beef brisket
5 medium carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1 (28-ounce) can peeled tomatoes, undrained
1 1/2 to 2 cups red wine
1 head garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound pitted prunes

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat the oil in large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add minced garlic and onions and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.

Transfer garlic and onions to a large roasting pot and place meat on top, fat side up. Add carrots, parsley, tomatoes, wine and unpeeled garlic cloves. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, cover, and bake for 2 to 3 hours, or until meat is tender. Add the prunes the last 30 minutes of baking.

Transfer the meat to a wooden board and slice. Return to pot and keep warm.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


SUFGANIYOT (JELLY DOUGHNUTS) DEEP-FRYING RULE

The temperature of the cooking oil is very important when frying doughnuts: If it is too cool, the doughnuts will absorb it and be greasy; if it is too hot, the doughnuts will burn on the outside and remain uncooked inside. Use a frying (candy) thermometer to establish and maintain the proper heat.

These doughnuts can be fried one or two days in advance and refrigerated in plastic bags. When ready to serve, heat in the oven and they will puff up as if they were just fried.

1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 F)
Granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
1 egg, separated
2 teaspoons orange juice
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raspberry or strawberry jam
Vegetable oil for frying

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add a pinch of sugar and set aside until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Blend margarine, egg yolk, orange juice and yeast mixture in the bowl of an electric mixer. Gradually add flour, 2 teaspoons sugar and salt and blend well. Cover with a towel and let rise until the dough doubles, about 45 minutes.

Place dough on a well-floured board and knead into a flat disc, adding more flour if needed. Roll dough out with a rolling pin to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Using a cooking cutter, cut out 2-inch rounds. Top half the rounds in the middle with 1 teaspoon of jam and brush the edges with the egg white. Place plain rounds on top of jam-covered rounds; pinch edges closed to seal. Place doughnuts on a parchment-covered cookie sheet, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise, about 45 minutes.

Reseal each doughnut.

Using a deep fryer or a heavy pot and a frying thermometer, heat about 4 inches of oil to 375 degrees. Fry three or four doughnuts at a time, turning them with a slotted spoon or tongs when one side is browned, and continuing to fry until brown all over, about 2 to 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

To serve, roll doughnuts in 1 cup of granulated sugar and serve immediately, or, to reheat, place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 10 to 15 minutes or until heated through.

Makes about 12 doughnuts.


FRIED ZUCCHINI STICKS

These crisp and crunchy zucchini sticks go well with any menu. They are best fried at the last moment. But, if prepared ahead and reheated in a hot oven, they can be just as crisp.

4 medium zucchini, unpeeled
1 cup flour
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon dried basil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs
Vegetable oil for frying

Slice zucchini lengthwise into quarters; cut in half crosswise and set aside.

Place the flour in a small paper bag and set aside. Place the bread crumbs and dried basil in another small bag. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside. Place the eggs in a bowl and beat well.

Drop 4 to 6 zucchini sticks into the bag containing the flour, shaking the bag to coat. Transfer to a metal strainer and shake off the excess flour. Dip the flour-coated zucchini sticks into the beaten egg and then coat with the bread crumb mixture. Place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. (You can hold the zucchini sticks at this point for at least 1 hour.)

Preheat oil in a deep-fryer or wok to 375 F.

Drop the coated zucchini sticks into the heated oil and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Transfer them to a napkin-covered platter and serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


FOOD PROCESSOR POTATO LATKES

1 large yellow onion, peeled
4 medium baking potatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
Pinch baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for frying

Chop the onion into small dice with the knife blade in a food processor. Remove the knife blade, insert the shredder blade, and grate the potatoes. Immediately transfer the potato and onion mixture to a large bowl, and add the lemon juice, eggs, flour, baking soda, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Heat 1/8 inch of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spoon the batter, about 1/3 cup at a time, into the hot oil and flatten with the back of the spoon to make 2- to 3-inch latkes. Cook on one side until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes; then turn and cook on the other side, about 2 minutes. (Turn only once.) Drain the latkes well on paper towels and serve immediately.

Makes about 2 dozen latkes.

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Dec. 27- Jan. 2: Hot Rod Chanukah, Moroccan New Years Eve


SAT | DECEMBER 27

(CHANUKAH BASH)
The week has been loaded with holiday merrymaking, but if you’ve got a drop of energy left, you’ll want to make it last all night long at the Hot Rod Chanukah Party hosted by The Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership Division and Birthright ” target=”_blank”>http://www.birthrightisrael.com. Non-alumni may buy tickets at ibakal@alpertjcc.org. circle@circlesocal.org. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jclla.org.

(CHANUKAH)
Nope, the Chanukah celebrations aren’t over yet. That’s one of the great things about being Jewish, isn’t it? Instead of one night of merriment, the parties just go on and on and on… Jumping right in is the Israel division of The Jewish Federation/ Valley Alliance, which is throwing its own holiday family festival complete with a magician, festive singing, a menorah-lighting ceremony, and — old magazines? Actually, attendees are asked to bring some along to turn them into a menorah. Not to worry, there will be expert magazine-menorah-makers on hand to help with the project. Sun. 4:30-6:30 p.m. Free. The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3206. sbjts@cox.net.

(WOMEN)
JConnect is no stranger to bringing L.A.’s Jewish community together, but this gathering is for women only. As part of their monthly women’s gathering series, guest speaker Tova Hinda Siegel will be discussing “A Light Unto Our Nation: Are WE Women the Guiding Light?” Siegel, a certified midwife and very active in the city’s Jewish community, is in a unique position to discuss women and their relationship to Israel. The conversation will take place over a kosher potluck brunch, so make sure to bring along your favorite dish. Sun. 11:45 a.m. Only cost is your contribution to the potluck. JConnectLA, 1801 Avenue of the Stars, Suite 322, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P to Michal@JConnectLA.com for the exact address of the event. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Fuel in Studio City into a Moroccan-style lair of rich tapestries, lush cushions and sensuous belly dancers. The feast will not be limited to just your eyes: There will also be a decadent kosher Moroccan buffet by Bazilikum Caterers and Chef Sharon On, a free hookah patio with a variety of sweet flavors and a champagne toast at midnight. Sababa’s loyal DJ duo, Ziv and Titus, will be spinning ’70s, ’80s, hip-hop, dance, house and plenty of hip Israeli crowd-pleasers. Part of the proceeds from this relatively affordable NYE bash (a nod to the struggling economy) will be donated to Yad B’Yad, a nonprofit that provides services to abused children in Israel. 21 and over. Wed. 9:30 p.m.-2 a.m. $48 (prepaid via PayPal), $58 (at the door). Club Fuel, 11608 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (310) 657-6650. ” target=”_blank”>http://geffenplayhouse.com; ” target=”_blank”>http://www.elportaltheatre.com.

FRI | JANUARY 2

(SHABBAT LECTURE)
Rabbi YY, as Yehuda Yonah Rubinstein is fondly known, is one of the most requested Jewish speakers in the United Kingdom. There, he is a regular broadcaster on national radio and television and was named one of the top five people in Britain to turn to for advice by the Independent newspaper. He has written innumerable essays and a couple of books, including “Dancing Through Time” and “That’s Life.” Jewish Learning Exchange is hosting this veteran public speaker and teacher with a gift for fusing Torah, modern-day challenges and humor at a special weekend starting tonight. Rubinstein will lead Melava Malka on Saturday night and speak on the subject of what Judaism says about dreams. Guests are asked to specify if they need sleeping accommodations and/or meals. Fri.-Sat. $36. Jewish Learning Exchange, 512 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. Call (323) 857-0923 or e-mail info@jlela.com to register and to receive a detailed schedule. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.tebh.org.

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Dec. 20-26: Chanukah, Chanukah, Chanukah


SAT | DECEMBER 20

(SPARKLING CHANUKAH)
JConnectLA is encouraging members of the young professional (YoPro) community to “get sparked for the Festival of Lights” by partaking in a little Fire and Ice. There to help fuel the fire will be the Chai Center, the Happy Minyan, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jconnectla.com.

(SOCIAL JUSTICE CHANUKAH)
Join the only Chanukah party that combines hip music with serious social justice at the eighth annual Festival of Rights, sponsored by the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, JDub Records and the Progressive Jewish Alliance. Local activists will be lighting the menorah for their favorite cause. The Sway Machinery (featuring members of Arcade Fire, Balkan Beat Box and The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs) and Spanish indie rockers DeLeon are set to perform. Free latkes, gelt and other goodies while supplies last. Past participants include L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Who knows who you’ll see rocking out and lighting a candle at the club this year. Sat. 8 p.m. $12. The Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. (310) 276-6168. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>with lyrics by Woody Guthrie; Cantor Alberto Mizrahi, otherwise known as the “Jewish Pavorotti”; YouTube sensation Michelle Citrin (“Rosh Hashanah Girl” and “Twenty Things to Do With Matzah”); and saxophonist Dav Koz, who will offer up his version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Mare Winningham will share her conversion story in “A Convert Jig” and Rabbi David Wolpe will offer inspirational messages throughout. There’s more, but best to check out the program for yourself. Sun. 5 p.m. KCET. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.citywalkhollywood.com.

(FAMILY CHANUKAH)
The name of the event does not get points for originality (Shmooze-a-Palooza, Purimpalooza, Jewzapalooza, must we go on?), but Temple Beth Israel’s Latkepalooza certainly earns a gold star for having everything a Chanukah celebration should: fresh-off-the-frying-pan latkes with applesauce and sour cream, Chanukah songs, dancing, dreidel games, a community lighting of menorahs and a bonus raffle, at which menorahs, books and other goodies will be handed out. Ed Leibowitz wrote an enormously long article about this egalitarian Highland Park congregation in the September issue of Los Angeles magazine, so if you’re looking around for a synagogue to belong to, the article and this holiday party could serve as your orientation package. Sun. 4:30 p.m. (kids’ activity). 6 p.m. (celebration). $5 (raffle tickets). Temple Beth Israel, 5711 Monte Vista St., Highland Park, Los Angeles. (323) 255-5416. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.chabadcenturycity.com.

(CHUMANISTIC CHANUKAH)
Adat Chaverim’s Chanukah party features — or we should say, doesn’t feature — an element you’re likely to find at most holiday festivities: God. Humanistic Chanukah is part of Adat Chaverim’s overall mission of fostering a Jewish cultural identity and a sense of Jewish community within a nontheistic context. Cantorial soloist Terry Lieberstein will be performing Chanukah songs and leading the kids — from preschool to young adult — in games. Ecofriendly crafts and gift-making will also be part of the festivities. And, of course, lots of latkes for everyone. Sun. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Free. American Jewish University, Auerbach Student Lounge, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P to (818) 623-7363 or info@humanisticjudaismla.org. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.farmersmarketla.com.

MON | DECEMBER 22

(WORLD RECORD CHANUKAH)
Were you that kid whose dreidel was always the last one left spinning? Are you a master at turning tops? Have you always dreamed of setting a world record? Even if you answered no to all three questions, Sha’arei Am, The Santa Monica ” target=”_blank”>http://www.thesms.org.

(CINEMATIC CHANUKAH)
Make the second night of Chanukah a cozy movie night: Turn off all the lights, light a few candles — oh, wait, you already did that — pop some bite-size latkes in a bowl and snuggle up on the couch for a marathon of Jewish flicks courtesy of the Turner Classic Movies channel. Their Happy Chanukah programming highlights three classics, “Exodus,” 8 p.m.; “Yentl,” 11:30 p.m.; and if you’re hungry for more Jewish tales, there’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” 2 a.m. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.holidaycelebration.org.

(DANCE CHANUKAH)
While the rest of the city is home enjoying Christmas dinner, young Jews will be feasting on hip-hop beats, salsa grooves and Israeli tracks at the Chanukah Dance Party being hosted by Cabana Club. Veteran Israeli maestro DJ Eyal will be handling the sounds, and the sexy Sunflower Dancers will be handling the moves in the special salsa room. Expect a nice mix of Jews in club attire at this festival of disco lights. Ages 21 and over. Wed. 9 p.m. $25. Cabana Club, 1439 Ivar Ave., Hollywood. (323) 309-1514. jsmp@pacbell.net.

ON-GOING

(POPCORN CHANUKAH)
The holidays also mark the season for movies, and there are several films well worth checking out. Tom Cruise stars in “Valkyrie,” based on the true story of the men who led an operation to try to assassinate Hitler (see story, Page 38). “Waltz With Bashir,” winner of six Israeli Academy Awards, is an animated film that digs into director Ari Folman’s past and his involvement in the Israeli army during the first Lebanon War. Finally, Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes star in “The Reader,” a film based on the best-selling novel that tells the story of a post-WWII love affair. The secret affair eventually ends, but the lovers find each other again years later — in a courtroom during the Nazi war crime trials. Check local listings. ” target=”_blank”>http://waltzwithbashir.com;

Chanukah Gift Guide 2008


Here’s some ideas for gifts that will continue to inspire long after the chanukiah has been put away. Bling that bridges faith and fashion, a DVD from a local yoga instructor and a Western Wall locket from an Agoura Hills jewelry designer are a few ideas from Southern California and beyond that can make shopping for family and friends easier.

Los Angeles designer Ellen Hart offers an alternative to the tired “status bag” with CareerBags (” target=”_blank”>http://www.elezar.com or at Royal Dutchess in Studio City).

Stella Rubinshteyn has created a treasure trove of mommy must-haves with Tivoli Couture (” target=”_blank”>http://www.awareables.com).

Jewtina ($20-$25, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewzo.com) takes the animals of Chinese astrology and replaces them with New York deli favorites. Born in the Year of the Dog? Fuhgeddaboudit. Now you’re the Year of the Blintz. T-shirts ($18-$20), infant onesies ($20) and other Jewish Zodiac products make this a fun, personal gift for family and friends.

Rock Your Religion (” target=”_blank”>http://www.samsontech.com, also available at Best Buy and Amazon.com), which is compatible with both PC and Mac, can hold a 16-gigabyte SD card and features an on-board chromatic guitar/bass tuner.

If you are hoping to give (or get) inspiration this holiday, look toward the wisdom of Abby Lentz, who imparts hope and spirit with her “Heavyweight Yoga” DVD ($25, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.iamnotamess.com), a yoga DVD focused on health and recovery of body, mind and spirit created by Hillary Rubin, who was diagnosed with MS in 1996 and teaches at L.A.‘s City Yoga.

The Wish Locket by Agoura Hills-based Monica Nabati goes the distance from fashionable to meaningful by providing you with a Kotel you can keep close to your heart, among other designs ($56, plus $8 for additional engraving). Simply write out your hopes, dreams or prayers, fold the paper and insert it into the locket. Available at ” target=”_blank”>http://www.scenelifegames.com). The Seinfeld Edition gives players a chance to relive their favorite “Seinfeld” moments from each of the show’s nine seasons. Kids can school their elders on everything cool with the Disney Channel Edition, featuring clips and trivia from “Hannah Montana,” “High School Musical,” “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Wendy Wu” and more. Given ($30, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewishmajorleaguers.org). Produced by the American Jewish Historical Society, the set bats .1000 with photos and facts of baseball’s greatest Jewish players. It also includes a special tribute to the 75th anniversary of Hank Greenberg’s rookie season. Once you’re on base, hit a home run with Bergino’s Judaica collection baseballs ($20-$25,

It’s beginning to sound a lot like Tish Tones; Java Nagilla!


Saturday the 23rd

Chanukah’s officially over, but it’s not too late to catch Tobey C. Moss Gallery’s exhibition, “Peter Shire — The Creative Synapse: Fantasies, Drawings, Sculptures.” Included among Shire’s maquettes — relating to his public artworks displayed as close as Los Angeles, and as far as Japan — are Judaica pieces like his gouache on paper titled, “Angel and Menorah,” and an aluminum and enamel sculpture called, “Peace Dove Menorah.”

Through Jan. 6. 7321 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 933-5523. www.tobeycmossgallery.com.

Sunday the 24th

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Photographers before the lens as well as behind is the theme of LACMA’s current exhibition, “Masquerade: Role Playing in Self-Portraiture — Photographs from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection.” Curated by the Irmas’ daughter, Deborah Irmas, the show features costumed self-portraits of photographers like Cindy Sherman and Yasumasa Morimura, and explores the way in which masks can reveal truths.

Through Jan. 7. 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 857-6000. www.lacma.org.

Friday the 29th

Here’s a new one for ya. Congregation B’nai Emet tries a fresh take on the old Friday night Shabbat service with tonight’s Java Nagilla Shabbat. The catchy title refers to the post-service oneg, which will include a special coffee bar along with requisite desserts. But during the service, the congregation will also learn two new songs written by choir director Irwin Cohen. They want you to be surprised, but we can tell you that one song is a bluesy rendition of a prayer already familiar to you.

4645 E. Industrial St., ‘2C, Simi Valley. (805) 581-3723. www.congreagationbnaiemet.org.

Swingin’ Chanukah with Kenny Ellis; The Klezmatics at the Disney; Three More Tenors


Saturday the 16th

To our knowledge, only one man can claim all of the following titles: writer, director, actor, comedian and Dixieland jazz clarinetist. Artist of all trades Woody Allen focuses tonight on that latter occupation. He and his crew, a.k.a. Woody Allen and his New Orleans Jazz Band, perform in a rare large venue appearance at UCLA’s Royce Hall as part of their first North American tour.

8 p.m. $25-$125. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood. www.uclalive.org.

Sunday the 17th

” target = “_blank”>www.kennyellis.com

Thursday the 21st

Originality trumps repetition in the holiday songs battle


I will be frank. I’m tired of hearing the same holiday songs over and over. So the best Chanukah present I’ve received this year is a pile of Chanukah-themed CDs with lots of new holiday songs, many of them quite good. Here’s what crossed my desk this December.

The Klezmatics: “Woody Guthrie’s Happy Joyous Hanukkah” (JMG) and “Wonder Wheel” (JMG). I wasn’t that enthused by the “Matics” Guthrie Chanukah set when it was released last year, but I have to admit I was wrong.

This is a spirited, jaunty and frequently funny set that should be particularly appealing to children (and will give their parents a respite from “The Dreydl Song”). The set adds four instrumental tracks to last year’s release, allowing the band to stretch out and show their chops, but my favorite is a carry-over, “The Many and the Few,” a classic example of Guthrie’s skill at rendering narratives into song lyrics redolent of ballad classics.

“Wonder Wheel” continues the Klezmatics’ collaboration with the Guthrie Archives, which is looking like a very fruitful pairing indeed. Drawing a wide range of moods and tones from the archives collection of previously unset lyrics, the band gets to show off its considerable range, from a funky faux-Latin “Mermaid Avenue” to a lovely Calpyso-ish lullaby “Headdy Down,” from a weirdly Asiatic/alternative-country “Pass Away” to a klezmer “Goin’ Away to Sea.” One of the surprises of the set is how profoundly spiritual some of the Guthrie lyrics are. One expects the good-natured progressivism of something like “Come When I Call You” and “Heaven,” but the deeply felt religious feeling of “Holy Ground” is unexpected and moving.

The LeeVees: “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” (JDub/iTunes). When the LeeVees’ “Hanukkah Rocks” came out on JDub last year, I wrote, “Alt-rock heavies Adam Gardner of Guster and Dave Schneider of the Zambonis felt that the post-punk world desperately needed a Chanukah record of its own…. The result is a very funny, smart self-satire, with adolescent agonies turned into the difficult choice of sour cream vs. applesauce (‘Tell your mom to fry, not bake’) and of not getting presents (well, there are ‘six-packs of new socks from each of our moms’).” Now, they have added an EP, mostly of playful acoustic versions of the previous Chanukah tunes and a punchy new tune “Jewish Stars,” downloadable from iTunes. Like the originals, these are amiable, bouncy and witty rockers. Thirteen minutes of pure pleasure.

The Lori Cahan-Simon Ensemble: “Chanukah Is Freylekh!” (self-distributed). This is a very jolly set of European-style performances — tsimbl and fiddle predominate, no brass — that often feels like a family gathering. And that’s appropriate, because the CD comes with dance directions for kids, as well as the usual translations, bios and such. It is a delightful recording, fueled by Cahan-Simon’s warm, friendly sound. Available from Hatikvah Music, (323) 655-7083 or hatikvahmusic.com.

Poppa’s Kitchen: “A Rockin’ Hanukkah” (self-distributed). A cheerful MOR-rock set of new Chanukah songs from Robert Romanus (who you may recall from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) and Scott Feldman. The EP (only 21 minutes) has one song for each night, a cheerful blend of California rock and holiday spirit, witty lyrics and some hook-filled tunes. Available from cdbaby.com.

Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman: “Fli, Mayn Fishlang! Fly, Fly My Kite!” (Yiddishland). It is devoutly to be hoped that casual listeners will not dismiss Schaechter-Gottesman as the “flavor of the month” because she has become so prominent of late; she has more than earned the attention, and I, for one, hope it continues for a long time. The quality of musicians she attracts is one mark of how good she is — this set includes contributions by Lorin Sklamberg, Binumen Schaechter, Matt Darriau and Ben Holmes. This CD features her Yiddish children’s songs, which have a charming wistfulness that reminds me more of a French chanson than anything else. There are also songs for several holidays (including a couple of Chanukah tunes) and, as usual from Schaechter-Gottesman, a lot of yearning lyrics about the changing of the seasons. Available from yiddishlandrecords.com.

Julie Silver: “It’s Chanukah Time” (HyLo). Of course, there is another way to pep up those tired traditional holiday songs — you can reinterpret them, change the lyrics around, make them contemporary. This is often a recipe for disaster, but Silver’s “The Dreidel Song” reworked as a frisky country rocker works wonderfully (almost hilariously) well, and sets a high standard for the rest of this set. A reggae “Al Hanisim” and a Latin-flavored “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” work almost as well. The only problem with this approach, even when it’s done right, is that the focus shifts from the message of the holiday to a guessing game: What’s next, a goth-metal “Mi Yimalel,” “Maoz Tzur” as a morning raga? Silver doesn’t do anything that absurd, so the set doesn’t spiral out of control, but there is an inevitable lingering doubt in the listener’s mind that some of the choices were motivated by the need for the unfamiliar rather than the musical possibilities. Still, it’s a nicely played and sung set. Available from hyloproductions.com and at Barnes & Noble.

In addition to these Chanukah-themed recordings, there are two big-ticket items to keep in mind when doing your year-end gift shopping. The ongoing partnership between Naxos Records and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music has resulted in 50 CDs showcasing the remarkable range of Jewish American music; although they will continue to issue new recordings on a regular basis, they are celebrating this milestone by offering a set of those first sets. The deluxe box set of all 50 Milken Archive CDs will be available for $349, a savings of $100 if purchased individually. Available at milkenarchive.org.

If you are feeling less ambitious or less solvent, or if you know an aspiring Jewish musician, you should consider Yale Strom’s latest project, “The Absolutely Complete Klezmer Songbook,” published by Transcontinental Music. This volume boasts more than 300 songs that Strom has collected in his travels through the Old Country, and comes with a CD that features his performances of 36 of them. At $49.95, it is a must for anyone interested in East European Jewish music. Availble wherever music books are sold.

George Robinson, film and music critic for Jewish Week, is the author of “Essential Torah” (Shocken Books, 2006).

Illuminating Tales of Modern Maccabees


In Myra Goldberg’s short story, “Who Can Retell,” reprinted in the National Public Radio anthology, “Hanukkah Lights, Stories of the Season” (Melcher Media, 2005), a young girl is concerned that her school’s holiday glee club is singling out all the Jewish students to sing Chanukah songs.

The story, about the trauma of having an identity that cannot assimilate completely into the dominant culture, perhaps embodies the American Chanukah experience, which more than any other holiday in the calendar, reminds Jews that they are different.

Although it is not a biblical holiday, unlike say, Passover, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, Chanukah has managed to carve its own place in the American cultural pantheon. It is the one holiday in the Jewish calendar that even the most assimilated Jews tend to acknowledge. It is also a holiday that the more affiliated Jews commemorate as a ritual-laden eight days, replete with olive oil lights, prayers, latkes, and discussions and songs of a tiny army hell-bent on defending their God’s and nation’s holiness.

In “Hanukkah Lights,” the stories not only exemplify the dichotomous nature of the holiday for American Jews, but also the way in which Chanukah has, to some degree, become synonymous with so many facets of their Jewish identity.

The book was borne out of the popular NPR broadcast of the same name, an hour-long show of Chanukah stories read aloud, created in 1990 by Susan Stamberg and Murray Horowitz. Initially, the stories read on the program had been previously published. But as the program became more popular, the producers started commissioning their own choice of writers.

“Hanukkah Lights” has broadcast 40 original stories, of which 12 are included in this anthology, with an additional four on the accompanying CD featuring original NPR readings by Stamberg and Horowitz. Printed on high-quality paper, the book has beautiful full-color, collage-like illustrations by Sandra Dionisi.

The stories include modern takes on the Maccabean legacy of die-hard nationalism. In “Nona Maccabeus,” by Gloria Davidas, Kirchheimer, a grandmother in a Sephardic old-age home, holds firm to her Ladino roots, thwarting “the Ashkenazim who controlled her daily activities,” by dressing up and singing a Ladino Chanukah song instead of listening to the hip-hop Chanukah act that the home’s manager thrust upon them. In “Stabbing an Elephant,” by Max Apple, a young rabbi defiantly decides to not modify a pictorial detail of an elephant being stabbed in a Chanukah story book, despite intense pressure from the heavyweights in his community.

Other stories deal with the Chanukah miracle itself. The oil, which burned for eight days instead of just one, was the result of modern technology placed in the Temple through time travel, recounts Harlan Ellison in “Go Toward the Light.” In Eli Weisel’s “A Hanukkah Story,” the miracle is one where a mysterious, anonymous laborer who helps a boy up after he has been beaten by thugs, turns out to be a holy man who studies privately with a mystical rabbi.

Like the little girl in the Myra Goldberg story, other stories deal with the prominence of Chanukah as an element of Jewish American identity. In “The Demon Foiled,” by Anne Roiphe, a Jewish mayor, newly elected to a fractious city, invites the TV cameras into his house when he is lighting the menorah. But the candles do not behave, and they self-extinguish before the mayor has a chance to give his prepared speech. Instead, the mayor says, “This is a promising sign, a menorah in rebellion against taking things for granted … a positive miracle….”

“I believe that we might have caught a sweet spot,” said Charlie Melcher, founder and publisher of Melcher Media, who helped put together the book. “Often a lot of Judaica publishing is not that great looking in terms of its design and artwork [so we wanted to create] something that is attractive and interesting and contemporary but clearly for the Chanukah Jewish market — [which] might be underserved. I hope this book will serve it well.”

 

The Best Presents: Ritual and Repetition


During my family’s annual Thanksgiving beach road trip this year, my kids showed remarkable stamina for tolerating monotony as they watched the “Rugrats’ Chanukah” video 12 times in a row. I was about to inquire how they could manage to consistently laugh like fiends each time they saw Stu dress up like Latke Man, but stopped short upon realizing that they could easily turn the question back on me. You see, I’m no stranger to repetition myself, having managed to spend Thanksgiving on Hilton Head Island every year since I was in first grade.

My family always looks forward to our November return to South Carolina — where we unfailingly celebrate the holiday on Friday rather than Thursday — and to having fishing and sandcastle competitions and playing charades late into the night. But this annual pilgrimage represents far more to my kids than just fun. It is the makings of their greatest memories, the links between past, present and future, and the safety net that is woven out of knowing that no matter how crazy their world may feel the other 51 weeks of the year, they will spend that one glorious week, which happens to include the third Thursday in November, embedded in the familiar, the mundane, the beautiful traditions that weave our lives together year in and year out.

No wonder many psychologists believe that it is in the simple repetitions of life — not the grand black-tie events — that our children find the sense of stability and continuity they need to thrive in an unpredictable world. In other words, even if your kid is convinced that the only present he wants for Chanukah is a new, updated video-game system to replace the his old new, updated video-game system, you can rest assured that he really wants something else. This Chanukah, give your kids an extra present — one that will last far longer than the batteries in their hot new toys. Here are ideas for eight nights of rituals to help you begin to weave a lasting emotional safety net for your families, leaving them feeling as warm as the menorah’s glowing flames and strong as the courageous Maccabees for many Chanukahs to come.

Treasure Hunt Night: Make a treasure map for your kids to follow in order to find their loot for the night.

Tzedakah Night: Give your children a set amount to spend and take them to the toy store where they can pick out a gift for a needy child. Let them personally deliver it to a children’s hospital, homeless shelter or charity drop-off point.

Latke-Making Night: Whether it is peeling, washing or frying, making latkes is almost as much fun for kids as eating them.

Homemade Present Night: By stocking up on art supplies, having each family member draw a name and proceed to make a special gift for that person, you create a tradition as meaningful as it is messy.

Dreidel Showdown Night: Your family will have a “geltload” of fun taking part in an annual family dreidel tournament.

Big Present Night: OK, I may catch some flack on this one, but I support this unabashedly materialistic ritual, nonetheless.

Book Night: Reserve this night for exchanging hot reads and follow up with family reading time.

Friends and Family Night: The stories and memories swapped on this night will ultimately mean far more to your kids than the presents that will undoubtedly swapped, as well.

Sharon Estroff is a nationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist. She is a mother of four and an award-winning teacher with degrees in education and psychology. Her first book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah?: The Essential 411 on Raising Modern Jewish Kids,” will be published by Broadway Books, a division of Random House, in 2007.

 

Chrismukkah Web site


 

A menorah is topped with candy canes, a mini Christmas tree adorned with a Jewish star and a spinning dreidel pictures Frosty the Snowman on one side and the tree on another: These are just some of the “interfaith” pictures featured on the mugs on the gift section of the Chrismukkah Web site (www.chrismukkah.com). Other images – which also adorn T-shirts and holiday cards – include a reindeer with a menorah for antlers, a zayde-slash-santa and other cute combo sayings like “Oy Joy” and “Merry Mazeltov,” which get across the sentiment of both Judaism and Christianity.

“Chrismukkah is a blend of favorite traditions from both Chanukah and Christmas,” writes site founder Ron Gompertz, a Jew, who is married to a Protestant, Michelle. “Michelle and I deeply respect the religious observances of Christmas and Hanukkah as individual holidays,” he writes. “Chrismukkah is not intended to replace either.”

The Gompertzes began observing Chrismukkah officially last year.

Of course they only started celebrating it last year – that was the first time there even was a holiday called Chrismukkah. While the blending of the two December occasions has been a long American tradition, last year is the first time the combo-holiday got an official name. Lexicographers (and readers of The Journal) will recall that Josh Schwartz, young Jewish creator of Fox�(tm)s teen campy drama, “The O.C.,” first coined the term for the lead interfaith poster-child character Seth Cohen (Adam Brody). Cohen pestered his entire family to get into the spirit of both holidays.

A national Jewish population survey, conducted by the United Jewish Communities (UJC) in 2000-01 and corroborated by an American Jewish Committee (AJC) survey, counted 5.2 million adult Jews living in the US and found that of all married ones, nearly one-third are married to non-Jews. The UJC poll further reported that nearly half of all Jewish newlyweds within the past five years had chosen non-Jewish spouses.

But this year, with the eight days of Chanukah celebrated from Dec. 8-15, the Jewish holiday ends way before Christmas begins. So maybe we don�(tm)t need Chrismukkah after all.