Friday, December 19, 2014

This Hanukkah, I'm Going to let it Shine

Last week was banner chapel at my son's school. Each fourth-grade boy created a felt banner that celebrated his faith or values. The boys carried their banners into the school chapel to be displayed during a special service. As the boys held their creations high, the school chaplain talked about how symbols communicated our beliefs and ideas.  

Looking around the room, I saw faith-specific signs as well as ones that conveyed universal messages shared by all religions. True to his interfaith heritage, our son chose Peace on Earth as his theme and included the signs of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism on his banner. My husband and I thought our son represented much of what we teach at home–a focus on shared values, acceptance and coexistence of different faiths, and our responsibility to make the world a better place.

Banner chapel, with its discussion of emblems, comes at an appropriate time of year given that symbols surround us. Christians share their Christmas spirit inside and outside their homes. Holiday lights brighten neighborhoods. Wreaths hang on front doors. Santa and his reindeers and elves greet visitors on front lawns and in malls. Creches and Jesus-is-the-reason-for-the-season displays remind passers-by of the holiday’s religious purpose. The signs of the season are virtually impossible to escape.

While those who celebrate Christmas rejoice in the public celebration of their faith, Jews often choose to celebrate their heritage privately. What is interesting about this choice is that Jews are encouraged to observe Hanukkah openly by placing menorahs in a window or lighting the candles in a doorway facing the street. Doing this publicizes the miracle of Hanukkah, sends a message of strength to enemies and shows Jewish pride.

But many Jews prefer to hang holiday decorations and light the Hanukkah lights inside their homes where they are visible only to themselves and their guests. This private celebration is a holdover from times of religious persecution. Yet, recent acts of anti-Semitism and religious intolerance in Europe and the United States make some Jewish and Jewish-interfaith families feel that boldly communicating their faith to their neighbors is still not a good idea.

But the latest incidences have had the opposite effect on me. This year, for the first time ever, I am communicating my family's Jewishness outwardly. I have an electric menorah in a window facing the street so it is visible to all who drive into the cul-de-sac or down the main road in the neighborhood. A dreidel is hanging on the front door. 

I am proud of these symbols and what they say about my family's beliefs, heritage, and values. I am able to display them proudly because of the Maccabees victory. This Hanukkah, I'm going to let my Jewishness shine.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Incredible Edible Hanukkah Traditions

Guest post by Ellen Zimmerman, creator of Jewish Holidays in a Box

If you’re like me, you might think it’s hard to find fun Hanukkah kitchen activities for little ones–but that is only if you think about fried foods like latkes and donuts. Even cutout Hanukkah cookies take some dexterity.

But, then, aha! I realized that there are so many options. I discovered edible dreidels, thanks to Joanna Brichetto, the Bible Belt Balabusta. They are made with marshmallows, pretzels, and chocolate kisses. I’ve made them with little kids and Sisterhood ladies. I don’t know who had more fun.

Then, I realized that we could quickly make an edible menorah that we could eat for dessert or as part of a meal. I came up with several options:

  • Donut menorah: This version wasn’t messy, just a little sticky. We made ours with brownies and donut holes. My grandkids decorated the tops of the brownies so that they were extra festive. Then we assembled them using toothpicks and double brownies to make the shamash (Remember to remove the toothpicks when eating.)

  • Marshmallow menorah: This version required a few more ingredients, a little more time and tolerance for more mess. But it was worth it. We used regular-sized, not mini, marshmallows; unwrapped chocolate gelt and Nutella. We glued the marshmallow to the gelt with a dab of Nutella to form a base. For the shamash, we used extra gelt or an extra marshmallow to elevate it. Colorful frosting can be used instead of Nutella.

  • Fruit and vegetable flat menorah: You’ve seen the amazing food art that people create with fruits and veggies, making patterns, faces, and animals. You can easily do the same with a menorah design that lies flat on a plate–you don’t need to figure out how to stand it up. Here are some options: alternate carrot, celery, and zucchini sticks for candles; red grapes or cherry tomatoes for flames. Check out this asparagus and radish menorah! Want to make a big hanukkiah? Get a large platter. Then use whole carrots as candles and kiwi rounds or halved strawberries as flames. The options are endless! Let your kids go wild.

If your kids are ages seven and up, you can turn over the entire activity to them and even make it a competition. If the makers of these treats can wait until after candle lighting, you can eat these menorahs while the candles are burning.

I created another fun holiday treat after I bought large Hanukkah cookie cutters. The cutters were much bigger than the precious, but smaller shapes I still have from when I was a child and that I used with my daughters when they were little. I remembered that my grandchildren loved pancakes— regular and cottage cheese. Hmm. What about a special Hanukkah breakfast—pancakes made in the shape of a dreidel, menorah, shield and Jewish star? They were a hit!

Of course, you can also be traditional and make Hanukkah cookies!

Happy Hanukkah!

Jewish Holidays in a Box designs and develops fun and interactive materials to help families celebrate the Jewish holidays, and build powerful and positive Jewish memories through creative celebrations. Follow Ellen and Jewish Holidays in a Box @JewishFamilyFun.