Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. Though it’s a fairly minor Jewish holiday, it seems to get more press than the more important ones simply because of its proximity to Christmas. I worked for Hebrew Union for a while in college/grad school (plus my minor was Judaic Studies), so the theme of Jewish holidays isn’t lost on me: they tried to kill us, they failed, let’s eat!
Cincinnati has an incredibly rich Jewish history. Did you know that Cincinnati is the home of Reform Judaism? Check out The Jews Of Cincinnati, by Jonathan Sarna and Nancy Klein (which you’ll have to get at the library since it’s out of print) or Jews of Cincinnati by my very good friend and teacher, Fred Krome and John Fine (which you can find at any bookstore in town, and I believe Urban Eden has copies as well, or can get them). Or, you can just read this entry in the Jewish Virtual Library.)
Speaking of eating, Cincinnati has a great Jewish food history– did you know that? Manischewitz was founded here as a small matzo bakery in 1888. Fleischmann, the company that first commercialized yeast, was founded here too, in 1868. One of the most famous meals in American Jewish history, the Treif Banquet, was held here, at Hebrew Union College’s first ordination in 1883– and it’s significant that it was held in Cincinnati, a city that at the time was known more for its pork processing than anything else, though the menu featured items like shrimp and crabmeat, followed by meat and dairy courses (if you’re not familiar with Kashrut law, shrimp and crab are considered treif, or nonkosher. It is also against Jewish law to eat milk and meat in the same meal, based on a law that prohibits eating young cooked in its mothers’ milk. It’s complicated.). This caused about half the guests to leave in protest, which resulted in Cincinnati’s Jewish community firmly positioning itself in modernity.
Didn’t know I was into history, did you?
Joan Nathan is considered the queen bee of Jewish cooking. She’s completed quite a bit of research in the American Jewish Archives, which are located on the HUC campus (and where I used to work!). Here is a link to NPR, which profiled her Jewish Holiday Cookbook a few years ago. When I’ve hosted Hanukkah gatherings, these are three dishes I always include. The key, as Nathan notes, is cooking with oil– the miracle of Hanukkah is that oil in the lamp at the Temple lasted for eight nights– it should have only lasted for one.
And speaking of Hanukkah…
Or, if you prefer…
(Thanks @MrGuilt for that one!)