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Eight delicious nights: Residents celebrate Hanukkah with traditional foods
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Fried potato pancakes called latkes are one of the traditional dishes served during Hanukkah. - photo by Liset Cruz

Latkes

  • 1/2 an onion
  • 2 tablespoon oil
  • 3 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • oil for frying

Dice onion and sauté it in 2 tablespoons oil and 1 teaspoon salt until golden.
Grate the potatoes by hand or in a food processor. Immediately transfer the grated potato to a bowl of cold water.
Place eggs, flour, fried onion and 2 teaspoons salt in a separate bowl. Drain the grated potato and add to the rest of the ingredients. Mix immediately.
Heat 2 to 4 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Test the oil by dropping a tiny bit of the mixture into the pan. When the oil sizzles upon contact, it is ready.
For uniform latkes, use a 1/4 or 1/8 cup measuring cup. Scoop the batter and gently drop it into the oil. Press down gently with the back of the measuring cup to flatten. Fry 2-3 minutes until golden, then flip the latkes and fry 1-2 minutes on the second side.
Repeat until all the mixture has been fried. (Add more oil to the pan every couple of batches.)
Recipe yields 16 latkes.
Courtesy of Miriam Szokovsk of chabad.org.

While Christian families tucked the kids into bed to await the arrival of Santa Claus and baby Jesus, Jewish families in the area lit their menorahs to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah.

This year, the Jewish Festival of Lights began on Christmas Eve and lasted for eight days. Members of the Shalom b’Harim synagogue gathered Friday night at Dahlonega Presbyterian Church to worship and exchange homemade food for the holiday.

“It’s wonderful to be able to share our traditions,” Shalom b’Harim member Leslie Brass said. “It brings us very close to other people because we are a small group.”

A Murrayville resident originally from New York, Brass said an important part of celebrating Hanukkah is the food. The traditional Hanukkah meal in her family includes fried potato pancakes called latkes, roasted chicken with vegetables and jelly-filled doughnuts for dessert.

As a child, Brass said she looked forward to the special meal because it was an opportunity to indulge in foods she didn’t normally get to eat.

“In my family, we always ate really healthy,” she said. “So the fact that we were actually having something that was fried was a big treat for us.”

Brass said each year she cooks the meal for her adult children to carry on the customs of her grandparents, who came to America from Russia in the 1920s. Her family incorporates the food into games for children, including a game similar to bobbing for apples, but with doughnuts.

“One of the things we do in our family that is a lot of fun is we have a doughnut-eating contest,” Brass said. “Everybody has a partner holding a doughnut attached to a string within mouth’s reach. The person who eats (his or her) doughnut first gets to light the Hanukkah menorah that night.”

Brass explained a menorah is a nine-pronged candelabra used to commemorate Hanukkah. According to history.com, the holiday is a celebration of the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C., which had been taken by Greek-Syrian oppressors.

During the uprising, a group of Jewish rebels only had enough olive oil to light a lamp for one day, but miraculously the oil burned for eight nights. Each light on the menorah represents a day the oil burned, with the middle candle used to light the others from left to right.

Children are usually given one small gift each night, Brass said, and one large gift the first or last night.  

The tradition of serving fried food on Hanukkah is meant to acknowledge the miracle of the oil burning, said Harriet Gershkowitz, a resident at Cresswind at Lake Lanier and member of the community’s Shalom Club.

In her family, Gershkowitz said the traditional Hanukkah dinner includes pot roast along with latkes and doughnuts. They are recipes she learned from her grandmother.

Gershkowitz said the holiday is important to her, because it was a time when her close-knit family came together to share food and celebrate their faith.

“I come from a very big family,” Gershkowitz said. “We all lived near each other, so we all celebrated together. I remember people constantly coming and going throughout the holidays. That’s what the holidays are to me is family.”

Gershkowitz and other Jewish residents of Cresswind celebrated each night of Hanukkah with a prayer and menorah lighting ceremony in the community’s clubhouse. On the first night of the festival, the group shared latkes.

The Hanukkah staple is made by mixing grated potatoes and onions with eggs, seasonings and matzo meal or flour. Cresswind resident Marilyn Glasser said this is one case where store-bought just won’t do. There is no way to shortcut this essential part of the holiday, she said.

“It has to be homemade,” Glasser said. “You can’t fool these people here (at Cresswind), because you can’t get latkes anywhere in Gainesville.”

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