Hanukkah is the Jewish holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem through light and oil. To commemorate this event, Jewish families light a menorah for eight nights and eat food fried in oil. The most popular dish is latkes, a fried potato pancake. Many students will not be home for the majority of Hanukkah, so Hillel programming is helping to bring holiday cheer and latkes to the Northwestern community.
HANNAH COLE: Why listen to Christmas music when you can listen to the sweet sounds of frying latkes?
HANNAH COLE: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Hannah Cole and this is a special podcast for The Daily’s 2021 Holiday Guide. With the holiday season approaching, many Jewish students at Northwestern express their love of the fried potato pancakes called latkes. However, this Hanukkah treat is more than just delicious; it also represents the holiday’s origins and is an important tradition. Jessica Lott, Northwestern Hillel’s campus rabbi, gave insight into the holiday’s history and the significance of latkes.
JESSICA LOTT: There was a law enacted that said that Jews sort of couldn’t practice Judaism anymore, and so there was a small group of Jews who said, “We are fighting back.” And they actually did, like this little band of like guerrilla warriors tried to fight this huge empire’s army. What happened, and during the course of that battle, is that the temple, which was the central place of Jewish worship, was demolished.
HANNAH COLE: The Jewish people were determined to rededicate this space, and dedication translates to “Hanukkah” in Hebrew. One of the Jewish methods of rededication is through practices with light.
JESSICA LOTT: Because they were sort of in the midst of the war they didn’t have all the supplies that they needed. They found a very small amount of oil — they used oil lamps at the time — and they said, “Oh my gosh, this is, like, this oil is only enough to last us for one day.” And what happened is that the story goes, miraculously, that one little flask of oil burned for eight days.
HANNAH COLE: Oil and light became important aspects of the holiday. Today, families commemorate the history of Hanukkah through the lighting of candles for eight days and by frying foods in oil.
ADEN WEISER: The big thing about all food on Hanukkah is because Hanukkah is a holiday that’s centered around oil, a lot of the food is fried, and so, that’s why we have latkes, which are these fried potato pancakes. We have sufganiyot, which are these, like, fried doughnuts.
HANNAH COLE: That was McCormick junior Aden Weiser, Hillel’s programming chair. Weiser is involved in the planning of the popular annual Hillel event, Latkepalooza.
ADEN WEISER: Latkepalooza is one of Hillel’s biggest events of the year. It’s a way for everyone in the Jewish and non-Jewish communities at Northwestern to come together and celebrate Hanukkah, which is the Jewish Festival of Lights. What’s different about Latkepalooza compared to the rest of Hillel’s Hanukkah celebrations for the year is that (for) Latkepalooza we get explicit ASG funding, which means that the event is open to the community.
HANNAH COLE: Due to this funding, students of all religions enjoy Latkepalooza. This allows students to feel a part of a community away from their families and to introduce others to important Jewish foods and traditions.
ADEN WEISER: It’s nice to be able to have like a little home away from home and have community bonding. With Latkepalooza, especially because it’s an event that really is open to the broader community, it’s just to show what a Jewish community on campus looks like, and be able to teach people about Jewish traditions and have that outreach within the community, which is really important.
HANNAH COLE: While Latkepalooza is catered to accommodate the large crowd, students like Communication sophomore Craig Carroll remember making Hanukkah food from scratch with their families.
CRAIG CARROLL: Take a whole potato, and you skin the potato, and you soak it for a while. And you take it out of the water and you shave it down on the grater, and then you have a big pile of potato shreds.
[POTATO FRYING SOUNDS]
CRAIG CARROLL: Then you take a cheese grater and grate an onion and you mix them up. You eventually put the latkes into the frying pan, you usually do four at a time, fill the frying pan with oil and then once you see that it’s getting golden brown on the bottom, you flip it over. Then once you see it’s getting golden brown on that bottom, then you can take them out.
HANNAH COLE: While this is the more traditional way to make latkes, some families try to be inventive with their cooking while still incorporating oil.
ADEN WEISER: My mom really likes to try unique latke recipes. So one of our favorites in our family, she makes, like, these sweet potato curry latkes, which are really good. But you know, latkes with different vegetables are always on the table for us.
HANNAH COLE: These latke variations defy the usual recipe, but the process of making latkes with oil and enjoying them with the community remains the most important aspect. This process separates a regular potato pancake from a latke.
CRAIG CARROLL: Latkes have a very specific and special meaning for me and most Jews. Because I do know the process of cooking them and I love being in the kitchen while my mom is making the potatoes and putting them on the pan, latkes have more of a special feeling to me. The difference between latkes and potato pancakes for me is that process and is the tradition and the love that I have associated with the holiday.
HANNAH COLE: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Hannah Cole. This episode was reported and produced by me, Hannah Cole. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Jordan Mangi, the digital managing editors are Alex Chun and Sammi Boas, and the editor in chief is Isabelle Sarraf. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this. For more holiday content, check out The Daily Northwestern’s website and this year’s Holiday Guide, on newsstands Dec. 1.
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