Today is the 5th day of Hanukkah, the eight day Jewish Festival of Lights. Though it is not considered a major celebration in the Jewish calender it has become more popular in modern Jewish homes because of its proximity to Christmas. Though some Christian traditions – a decorated tree, gift giving – have become part of the North American celebrations there are certain age-old Jewish traditions which are universally observed.
The lighting of the Hanukkiyah – or Hanukkah menorah – is central to the celebration. Each night of Hanukkah an additional candle is lit as the days of the Miracle of the Oil are counted down. Every Tuesday I have to walk through the Ghetto (one of my favorite areas in Roma) to go to an appointment in Trastevere. It is a compact area – as indeed to put it politely the Ghetto always was – with small shops, good restaurants, an incredible kosher bakery and the Great Synagogue. Each year a large hanukkiyah is set up in the precincts of the Synagogue and another in Via di Portico d’Ottavia. This evening as I went along the Via four candles were lit awaiting sunset for the lighting of the fifth from the shamash or “helper” candle.
Its also traditional, because the festival celebrates the miracle of the oil, to eat fried food at a Hanukkah meal. Latkes served with applesauce are the favoured dish in most households. My friend Ben writes in his usual witty style about celebrating Hanukkah in his new apartment in Berlin. From what I read they’ll be having latke sandwichs for lunch for the next week.
The thought of those latkes reminded me of a Hanukkah dinner in Chicago at our friend Nancy’s place many years ago. She had used her bubby’s recipe for latkes and the apartment smelled of cooking oil. One of the guests gave a sigh and said it smelled just like her bubby’s house at Hanukkah. Suddenly this group of hard-assed yuppy lawyers were nodding in moist-eyed recollection of that memory. Oddly Laurent and I were the only ones at the table that evening who knew the complete story of Hanukkah, the fight of the Maccabes and the purification of the defiled temple in Jerusalem. And we were the only gentiles.
Happy Hanukkah to all my friends as they celebrate the Festival of Lights.
15 decembre – San Carlo Steeb