Beyond irreverent yet still hopelessly nostalgic, a few years ago I resorted to celebrating the festival of lights—Hanukkah—with a “Menorah” consisting of a celery stick spread with cream cheese stuffed with birthday candles. In Fort Pierce, Florida, that’s all I could find on short notice. Before that, my nomadic ways didn’t lend themselves well to transporting items used no more than eight days a year.
Wayne upgraded that sad vegetative state with a borrowed wooden RV chock, temporarily liberated. He drilled it with holes large enough to support the remaining birthday candles—a far more stable and slightly less irreverent Menorah.
In 2022, for the first time in ten-plus years, I was no longer nomadic. I dug through the entirety of my long-packed, limited, possessions (graciously stored by my in-laws), expecting to find a menorah. After all, I know I used to have one. Before going vagabond, I never missed a Menorah lighting, every year miraculously recalling brief prayer in Hebrew—a language I never really learned, but memorized bits of. Alas, I did not keep my Menorah!
The Dalles—where Wayne and I now call home—may not be the big city, but it is the county seat, and big enough to draw folks from a 50-plus-mile radius for many a consumable. I wasn’t able to locate a Menorah in town. In the past, temple gift shops were typically my go-to when Menorah shopping. Alas, the nearest temple to The Dalles is over 80 miles away. I didn’t plan a trip to Portland to pick one up, and as a holdout on Amazon Prime, I didn’t order one soon enough from Amazon.
Instead, last year I borrowed a Menorah from someone in The Dalles who had an unused spare; its owner stepped forward when I made a plea on where to find one on a Facebook page for The Dalles. The Menorah I ordered from Amazon last year came in a day or two after the final day of Hanukkah.
But that meant I was all set for 2023. This year I started shopping for Hanukkah candles before Thanksgiving and ordered them early.
Not only was I able to light the candles on my very own Menorah, but this year I started a new (for me) tradition—introducing others to the festival of lights with a carb-fest—latkes—potato pancakes. “A carb event? I’m in,” one of my friends said. Several others were equally willing.
While the prayer was rote, my dad was the latke-maker. His latkes were perfectly crisp and delicious. I resorted to the New York Times for a recipe and crossed my fingers that I could not only make them well for the first time, but also follow the gluten-free and bake rather than fry them. The latkes were tasty, but not crispy. Fortunately, I was the only one who knew real latkes are supposed to be crispy. They were eaten in good cheer, served with the traditional applesauce for the sweet topping and salmon, sour cream, and capers for the savory topping.
I enjoyed giving a brief explanation of why we light the candles at Hanukkah—to celebrate the miracle of how a tiny bit of oil kept the eternal light lit in a recovered temple going long enough for more oil so the eternal light never dimmed. Oil-cooked, latkes lend their culinary nod to the miracle of light.
Last night was the last night of Hanukkah this year, I heard a rabbi on NPR talk about the importance of maintaining the ancient tradition of providing light in a time of darkness, metaphorically and literally.
Light and hope. Yes, this is something we all need, regardless of our religious bent or faith. Latkes, too, crispy or not, shared in good cheer.