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Celebrating the Festival of Lights

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Celebrating the Festival of Lights

The Jewish celebration of Chanukah is often associated with the Christian holiday of Christmas, but that association has little to do with the significance of each holiday and more to do with the timing. Each is celebrated at the end of the year when the holiday season has hit full swing. But much like the story of Christmas, the story of Chanukah is a rich one.

The celebration of Chanukah has a deep history that can be traced back to a successor of Alexander the Great. Upon conquering Syria, Egypt and Palestine, Alexander the Great allowed these lands to remain relatively autonomous, a gesture that extended to allowing residents of these conquered lands to observe their own religions. However, more than 100 years later, Antiochus IV, a less tolerant successor of Alexander, began to oppress the Jewish people under his control, desecrating their temples and even ordering the massacre of many Jews. This treatment eventually sparked a revolt led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son, Judah Maccabee. This revolt would ultimately prove successful, and the temple was rededicated. But at the time of rededication, oil needed to light the menorah was very low, roughly enough to keep the menorah lit for just one night. However, the oil stunningly lasted for eight days, enough time to prepare an additional supply of oil for the menorah. An eight-day festival was then declared to celebrate this miracle, and that festival is now known as Chanukah, which is often referred to as the "Festival of Lights."

Though Chanukah is not as religiously significant as the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Passover, many Jewish people still look forward to the holiday and its traditions. One such tradition for many families is cooking potato latkes, a relatively easy yet delicious food that Chanukah celebrants can enjoy on weekend mornings when gathered around the breakfast table.

Potato Latkes

Serves 4

11/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons flour

11/2 teaspoons salt and freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil for frying

In a food processor, grate the potatoes. Line a sieve with cheesecloth and transfer the potatoes to the sieve. Set the sieve over a boil and twist the cheesecloth into a pouch, squeezing out some moisture. Let the mixture drain for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, pour off liquid from the bowl but leave the white potato starch that settles in the bottom of the bowl.

To that starch add shallots, eggs, flour, salt and freshly ground pepper. Return drained potatoes to this mixture and toss to combine.

Preheat the oven to 200 F. Line a baking pan with paper towels. When you are ready to eat, in a large skillet heat 1/4 inch of oil over medium-high heat until hot. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of potato mixture and cook for 3 to 4 minutes a side; latkes should be golden and crisp on both sides. Eat right away or keep warm in oven. Serve with applesauce, sour cream or cottage cheese mixed with sour cream. Recipe courtesy of foodnetwork.com.

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