Chanukah, the Story & Healthy Latke Recipe
What is Chanukah really all about? Why is it important, and how do we celebrate it?
To answer these questions we need to take a journey back in time..not too far back, just to 350 BCE (before the common era).
The story of Chanukah begins during the reign of Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedon (20/21 July 356 – 10/11 June 323 BCE). He conquered Syria, Egypt & “Palestine” (which is called Israel today). Alexander allowed the people under his control to continue to observe their own religions & retain some autonomy. Under his rule many Jews assimilated with the local Greek culture & customs, just as Jews in the 20th century blended into American culture.
More than a century later, Antiochus IV began to oppress the Jews & took over their Holy Temple in Jerusalem. He killed many of the Jews & prohibited the practice of their religion, such as Shabbat & Circumcision. He also desecrated their Holy Temple by making them use pigs as sacrifices.
Eventually enough was enough, and a father-son team, Mattathias & his son, Judah, (Judah, the Maccabee) led a revolt against oppression by Antiochus’ government. Once the revolt ended & the Jews were victorious, they went to re-dedicate the Holy Temple & light the holy light, called The Everlasting Light. However, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. This light, known as the EVERLASTING LIGHT is supposed to burn every night & every day in a Temple. There was only enough oil to last for only one night & it would have taken 8 days to prepare more oil to rekindle the light. Miraculously, the menorah stayed lit for eight days, allowing enough time for new oil to be prepared and brought.
Is that it? Is that the true miracle of Chanukah? Does it really matter that they might have had to wait eight days to light the Everlasting Light? After all, they waited a long time while they were being oppressed. The more important miracles of Chanukah are that the Jews were victorious, against all odds, they beat their enemy, the Greek Army. Furthermore, they were able, finally, to restore their Temple in Jerusalem. Most important of all, the Jews regained religious freedom in order to enable the people to observe the Torah’s commandments.
To commemorate these miracles an eight-day festival was declared. We remember this important event in several ways. First, we light the Chanukah lights on a Menorah or Chanukiah for eight nights, lighting one more candle every night until there are eight candles lit. The word Chanukah literally means dedication (of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem).
Second, we play Dreidle. The Dreidle, a spinning top, represents the fact that the Jews were not allowed to study Torah and pretended to be gambling whenever the Greek soldiers happened by. The dredle has one Hebrew letter on each of the four sides, Nun, Gimmel, Hay, & Shin. These letters make a sentence, Nes gadol haya sham, meaning, “a great miracle happened there”. Furthermore each letter has been assigned a value in regard to the game: Nun – nothing / stay pat; Gimmel – pay one; Hay – take half the pot; and Shin – pay two.
Third, we sing songs including, “Rock of Ages”, “Who Can Retell”, “Dreidl”, and “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah”.
Fourth, we eat potato latkes (or pancakes) because traditionally they were deep-fried, and the oil reminds us of the miracle of the oil. Of course, I have created a healthy version and have tested it just in time for Chanukah, which this year begins the night before Thanksgiving. Happy Chanukah & Thanksgiving, or as some are saying, Happy Thanksgivingukah.
Latkes Baked with Carrots
6 carrots, peeled
6 medium potatoes
1 onion, peeled
3 eggs (or egg whites or 1/3 fat free egg substitute), lightly beaten
1/2 C flour (or plain dried bread crumbs)
Salt & Pepper to taste
Optional: I use Basil; some people use Thyme or Oregano, but you have to be careful with the amount.
Preheat to 350°F. Spray two large baking sheets with any vegetable cooking spray. Using a food processor, blender, or by hand, coarsely grate the carrots, potatoes, & onion. Transfer to a medium bowl and combine with the eggs, flour, and spices, and mix well.
Drop the mixture by large spoonfuls (about the size of your palm) onto the baking sheets. Lightly spray the latkes so that they don’t stick. Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, until the outer edges are browned and crispy.
Note: some people bake them using a muffin tin, however they don’t get cooked thoroughly.
These can be eaten alone or with low fat sour cream or yogurt. I like to eat them plain with a salad. If you are following the Weight Watchers program, the Points Plus value is 1-1/2 points per latke. Enjoy!