Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
It was busy week for Stamford's new mayor, Caroline Simmons. On her first day after her inauguration (above), she lit Hanukkah candles at Government Center with the students of TBE, and accepted her first Hanukkah gift as mayor, a dozen sufganiot (from Dunkin Sufganiot, no less). It was very strange not to see the enormous Christmas tree that usually is there when we visit, but Hanukkah came early this year, so it felt like we "owned" the place. In truth, it felt a little lonely - empty.
Let's fill the void with our light. Bring your menorah to services this Friday night - we'll be showing them, not lighting them. But on Sunday on Zoom at 6, we'll be lighting for the eighth night, and with a screen full of fully lit hanukkiot, it will be a true festival of lights.
Shabbat Shalom, .
Join us on Friday night at 7, in person or on livestream, for our Shabbat Hanukkah service. Our students will be involved and there will be a special Hanukkah surprise that will be unveiled. It'll be a can't miss TBE moment! And on Shabbat morning, (which, aside from being Shabbat Hanukkah is also Rosh Hodesh Tevet and the portion of Mikketz), we'll look at Hanukkah from an environmental point of view (click to the left to see the info packet)
Where Did These Hanukkah Customs Come From?
This week I was asked about the origins of the sufganiah (jelly doughnut eaten on Hanukkah, especially in Israel). I turned to a renowned rabbinic authority - NPR - for the answer. The tradition was first mentioned in the writings of a 12th century Spanish rabbi, who wrote, "one must not make light of the custom of eating fried fritters. It is a custom of the ancient ones."
But it wasn't until the creation of modern Israel that the tradition really took off. That's according to Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan. Jewish leaders were trying to form a national identity. They were trying to come up with foods and traditions that were distinctly Israeli. And Nathan imagines those guys sitting around and just spitballing new customs, like sufganiyot. The word means sponge because doughnuts soak up oil. During the 16th century, when sugar became cheap and Europe experienced a pastry revolution. That's when Polish Jews started adding jelly to the doughnuts that they ate on Hanukkah.Them jelly came much later than the original fried doughnuts.
Here is a review of the best places serving sugfaniot in Israel.Below are some delicious varieties from the Ne'eman bakery chain. "In addition to their chocolate, caramel and jam varieties, this year Ne’eman is selling two meringue-topped doughnuts, peanut, sprinkle, espresso and cream versions, a “petit four” doughnut topped with pastry cream, mixed fruits and chocolate, plus the “sabrina retro,” a sliced open doughnut filled with pastry cream, rum and topped with a cherry." (see photo below - and let the salivating begin)
So the sufgania came from lots of places, but found its true home in israel, where it could thrive, just like the people whose stomachs it fills.
"Liel Krutokop was having fun playing archaeologist for a day. The 11-year-old girl was volunteering with her family at Emek Tzurim National Park in Jerusalem, sifting through dirt and looking for artifacts. Examining the very first bucket she’d chosen, Krutokop spotted something round. Wiping away the dust, she could tell that she’d stumbled onto something important. As Rossella Tercatin reports for the Jerusalem Post, the Petah Tikva resident had found a rare, 2,000-year-old silver coin with ancient Hebrew inscriptions reading “Israeli shekel” and "Holy Jerusalem."
Recovered from dirt collected in the neighboring City of David National Park, the coin dates to the first-century C.E. Great Revolt, which found the people of Judea rebelling against the Roman Empire. It is marked on one side with a cup and the letters “shin” and “bet,” indicating it was minted during the second year of the uprising (67 or 68 C.E.), reports Shira Hanau for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)."
Why is this find so important?
For one thing, it was found on the newly excavated Pilgrimage Road, which was the main thoroughfare for pilgrims going up into the second temple.
Also, it's made of silver. Tens of thousands of ancient coins have been unearthed, but only about 30 silver coins have been discovered from the Great Revolt.
But now we have this coin, which was likely made in the temple very shortly before it was destroyed, thereby ending a major era of Jewish history.
That era in many ways began with the Hanukkah story, marking a triumphant return to the temple and cleansing of its artifacts, including the menorah. For over two centuries, from 165 BCE to 70 CE, Jews remained in control of this holy precinct. Then it was lost, and the Pilgrimage Road was buried for two thousand years. See a video of the girls' retracing the steps of the pilgrims on that road.
On one side, the coin says, "Holy Jerusalem."
As we light our menorahs this week, it is important to realize that the events of Hanukkah mark not an ending of a revolt, but a beginning of a long historical process that led, ultimately, to this. While we celebrate the triumph of the light and the miracle of the oil, we can also note the miracle of the silver coin - the one that now is peering back at us, having been recovered, quite literally, from the dustbin of history.
And so we wonder. Who made it? Who held it? Who used it to buy a sheep for sacrifice or a meal for their family. Who gave it to the poor? And, most poignant of all, who was carrying it last, when the walls gave way or the soldiers came barreling through on their bloody quest for total destruction?
We may never know the answers to any of those questions. but we do know that two thousand years later, the coin ended up in the sifter of an 11-year-old Israeli girl. As the coin begins a new life in an old land, we stand in wonder at the great miracle of Jewish revival, the great miracle that happened here.