On the eighth day of Hanukah, Aaron Belitsky and Laurent Bensimon, best friends, put on their matching Snoopy hats yesterday and went off to a festival at the B'nai B'rith Museum.
It was a hectic day for Aaron and Laurent, a pair of brown-haired, brown-eyed, seven-year-old second-graders at the Hebrew Academy, who prefer Hanukah to all other holidays because "it lasts eight days and you get presents." They helped light the candles on the menorah, watched a videotaped puppet show and mingled effortlessly with a bunch of grown-ups as they made small talk over coffee and doughnuts in the gallery of the museum at 1640 Rhode Island Avenue NW.
They listened to Rita Kopin, a bespectacled woman with a nice smile, read stories from a book called "The Children of Chelm," by David A. Adler. One story, called "The Day It Snowed," reminded the children of Washington's first snow of the year: "The city of Chelm was seldom beautiful. The roads were often muddy. The houses were old and needed paint. And whenever a flower grew in Chelm, a hungry goat came and ate it. But one day Chelm was beautiful. The day it snowed . . . . "
It was a good way to spend a cold, drizzly Sunday afternoon and the last day of Hanukah, the celebration that commemorates the revolt and victory of the Maccabees against Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria in 165 B.C. Aaron's father, a Labor Department economist in a tweed cap, looked contented as he smoked his pipe and read Saturday's newspaper ("I'm always a little behind"), while his son charmed everyone he met.
The best part of the festival came, as it usually does, at the end. The grown-ups went into one room to watch Mark Talisman, director of the Washington office of the Council of Jewish Federations, and Rabbi Andrew Baker, of the American Jewish Committee, make gourmet latkes. They used such untraditional ingredients as spaghetti, zucchini, carrots and gruyere cheese.
The children went into another room to fix themselves the kind of old-fashioned latkes--pancakes made with potatoes and flour and fried in oil--that their grandmothers always have served on Hanukah. Aaron and Laurent grated potatoes and discussed, among other things, their friendship, their Hanukah gifts and their passion for latkes.
"Latkes are my favorite food," said Aaron, a vegetarian. "Macaroni is number two, peas are third, spaghetti is fourth and then toast."
"I like latkes third," said Laurent. "Steak is first and pizza is second." He ate five latkes and pronounced himself ready for a dinner of latkes. Laurent even played a latke in the school play. Aaron was a menorah.
"We have the same hobby," Laurent said. "Snoopy. We both love Snoopy. When I was in the first grade, I used to talk to him. I'd say, 'Are you having fun?' "
For Hanukah, Aaron said he had received a game called Pocket Repeat, a combination bank (he already has $6.19 in it) and an eight-ball. He said he was satisfied with his gifts, but if he could have anything he would want a racing set.
Laurent said, "I got Atari. What is Atari? It's a video game. It costs over a hundred dollars. You plug it into your TV. If you want to know how to spell it, I'll tell you:A-t-a-r-i."
Then it was time to clean up, a task to which Aaron and Laurent applied themselves with the same enthusiasm they had given to eating potato latkes. Laurent pulled on his blue Snoopy hat; Aaron had worn his red Snoopy hat throughout the afternoon. They said that they looked forward to vacation from school. Aaron said he planned to play a lot of soccer. Laurent said he would play Atari.