SOMERS, N.Y. – When Rabbi Fred Schwalb of Somers Hebrew Congregation talks about Hanukkah, he says, “Like all Jewish traditions, it’s all about food.”
Hanukkah commemorates the Biblical legend of the Jews who fought to regain their temple from the pagan Greeks, then had to purify it by burning oil for eight days. Miraculously, their one-day supply of lamp oil lasted eight days, and thus was born the tradition of eating foods cooked in oil during Hanukkah.
“In Eastern European Jewish culture, the traditional dish is the latke, that is, fried potato pancakes, served with apple sauce or sour cream. Since most Jews around here have roots in Eastern Europe, latkes are part of the traditional menu,” explained the rabbi.
When the Hebrew Congregation of Somers celebrates Hanukkah Friday evening, it will feature its annual Latkepalooza cook-off. Last year’s winner, Martin Ashley of Somers, credited Faye Levy’s cookbook for the recipe.
“In Israel, the chosen food is the jelly donut, cooked in oil, of course," Schwalb said. "In Tel Aviv, you get them fresh hot, right out of the oven. The filling is usually raspberry.”
In Somers, it is customary for the rabbi to provide jelly donuts for the congregation. So, will Rabbi Schwalb send to Tel Aviv for them? “I’ll probably order them from Dunkin’ Donuts,” he says.
“They don’t give gifts at Hanukkah in Israel,” the rabbi adds. “The Jews were fighting the Greeks to defend their heritage. Hannukah, which means 'dedication,' was all about establishing a Jewish identity. So it’s ironic that American Jews finally had to compete with the Christian Christmas by giving out gifts to the children. But I guess the kids don’t mind.”
The Hebrew Congregation of Somers will hold its annual Hanukkah dinner and Latkepalooza on Friday, Dec. 7, at 6:15 p.m. The synagogue is located at Cypress Lane and Mervyn Drive in the Shenorock section of Somers.