I had forgotten what it’s like to be in New York City the week after Thanksgiving. The streets and sidewalks are jammed with people. The buses are filled with families from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Long Island and all the other surrounding areas, disgorging the bus occupants at Rockefeller Center to see the famous tree. All I could think of, as I was in the midst of this frenzy, were the interfaith couples I have worked with and the concerns they have to manage.
Putting aside the hordes of people, there is no question that the tree in Rockefeller Center is totally magical. In fact it is irresistible and I found myself struggling to get a clear view so I, too, could get a picture of the entire scene.
Given that we Jews are a small minority within a country that claims separation of a church and state, the dominant religious theme everywhere is Christian. Putting up a big menorah in the middle of the town square just doesn’t compete!
What to do as a Jew to create significant memories? As I wrote in my blog recently, doing “acts of kindness” is a great way to start. Here are some other suggestions; make a party! Friends of mine have always had a Hanukkah party involving many families, lots of food and great homemade latkes. The present thing has been handled in various ways. If it involved younger children, each family was asked to bring a small gift and then each child could pick a gift that someone else had brought. If it is a party of only adults, they are asked to bring their worst wedding present (if they still have it!) followed by a gift exchange and the last suggestion involves gifts that are brought to the party and then given to a shelter or a hospital.
What about food? Yes, food definitely can contribute to making wonderful memories. Since I love to cook and people seem to enjoy my food, I’m going to give you two of my favorite recipes for a typical Ashkenazi Hanukkah meal - brisket and latkes.
1 first cut brisket about 3 lbs. It needs to have some fat but not too much.
1 package of dry Knorr French onion soup
Manischewitz Kosher Concord Grape wine
This is best made in a roasting pan with a domed cover just like you remember your grandmother or great grandmother using.
Take the brisket and put it in fat side up.
Make a “paste” of the dry onion soup and the ketchup.
Smear this all over the top of the brisket.
Pour the wine into the bottom of the pan up about 3/4 of an inch up the side of the pan.
Put the cover on and roast at 350 degrees for 3 hours.
Take off the cover for the last half hour to brown the topping.
Prick the meat with a fork to see when it is soft. This means it is done.
Check the meat while it is cooking. Make sure that there is always liquid in the pan. The cooking time may take less than 3 hours depending on the brisket.
When it is cooked take it out and slice it into thin slices against the grain.
Place the meat, sliced, into the pan.
Pour over the gravy and put all this into the refrigerator. It is best made the day before. The next day take off any congealed fat before heating the brisket. It also freezes very well. Enjoy!
This is the way my mother, Jean Lazar, always made them. My memory bank equates Hanukkah and hot latkes straight out of the frying pan!
5 white potatoes peeled
2 tablespoons of Matzo meal (mine is left over from Passover!)
1 grated onion
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp pepper
Grate the potatoes in the Cuisinart machine or by hand. This might encourage you to buy a machine if you don’t already have one.
Grate the onion.
In a large bowl, mix everything together. Work fast so the potatoes don’t brown.
Take a frying pan, pour in some Mazola oil. Do not use olive oil.
Heat the oil and put in a tiny amount of batter. When it starts to sizzle, carefully put in the latkes. To do this, use a slotted spoon, fill it with batter, let the liquid drip out a little and place this loosely formed latke into the hot oil. Check when one side is brown and then turn the latke over to brown the other side.
When they are ready, move them over onto paper towels and continue cooking the rest of the batter until it is all used up.
To reheat the latkes, take them off the paper towels, put them in a single layer onto cookie sheets.
They will crisp up if you reheat them in a hot oven around 500 degrees for a few minutes. Watch carefully so they don’t burn.
Marion L. Usher, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the George Washington School of Medicine and Behavioral Sciences, is creator of www.JewishInterfaithCouples.com, an interfaith workshop for Jews and their partners.