For eight nights, Jewish families will celebrate Hanukkah with the lighting of a menorah while enjoying foods rich in tradition, and often oil.
Hanukkah is often referred to as the Festival of Lights, and according to Rabbi Josh Breindel from Temple Ashne Amunim in Pittsfield, Mass., there is a rich history behind it. The holiday celebrates the military victory of the traditionalists against a Syrian invasion, he said, where the government prevented people from worshipping freely. The defeat culminated with an eight-day celebration to rededicate the temple. According to the Talmud, there was only enough oil to light the temple candelabrum for one day, but, miraculously, it lasted for eight days.
"Hanukkah means dedication, so that's the dedication of the temple once again for Jewish use," Breindel said.
This is also why many of the foods often associated with the holiday are fried with oil — latkes, jelly doughnuts or fried dough dusted with powder sugar. Like any holiday, food is an important part of the celebration.
For Shir Heharim Dara Carleton, administrative assistant of Brattleboro Area Jewish Community Congregation, eating the special foods associated with Hanukkah adds to the holiday's excitement.
"The food is a very big deal, mostly because these are specific foods we only eat at certain times of the year. Normally, it's something we always look forward to," Carleton said.
Additionally, Breindel said, these dishes remind the community of a time when food was not in abundance.
"It helps us to remember our connection to the past," Breindel said.
One of these foods is kugel — a sweet, creamy noodle casserole, often laced with raisins, that hails from Eastern Europe.
"It's a real comfort food," Breindel said. "You can make it all kinds of different ways."
Chelsea Roy, owner of Monkey Moon Challah and Pastries in Brattleboro, said there are many different types of kugel.
"It usually incorporates dairy, it almost always has eggs, but kugel can take almost any form," Roy said.
She said almost any vegetable can be included, and that potato kugel is quite popular.
"You grate the potatoes, and you mix them with the spices that you want and with eggs, and you cook it in a casserole dish," Roy said.
Carleton said she enjoys kugel, as many often do after growing up with it.
"It's a wonderful food because there's nothing else like it, and like a lot of other Jewish foods, it's very difficult to describe to people. ... I think that if you grow up with it and you're used to it you love it, and it's always very interesting to have non-Jewish people or people who haven't tried kugel before eat it and see what their reaction is," Carleton said.
While food is an integral part of the holiday, Roy said it's important to remember the celebration's true meaning.
"It's a time of light and celebration and coming together as the year becomes darkest and coldest," Roy said.
All of the winter holidays share this idea of coming together, according to Breindel.
"It's really my hope, this year in particular, where we've seen so much violence and hatred in the world, that we can all turn to whatever our winter holiday is and create a little bit of light in our own communities," Breindel said.
Courtesy of Chelsea Roy
1 pound wide egg noodles
4 oz cream cheese
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 cup sugar
5 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 cup cottage cheese
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup raisins
Cook the noodles in 4 quarts boiling, salted water until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease a 9x13 casserole dish
Beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and beat until fully incorporated.
Beat the eggs, salt and cinnamon into the cream cheese mixture.
Stir in the cottage cheese and sour cream, and then stir in the raisins
Fold in the noodles. Pour into greased baking dish, and bake for 45 minutes or until kugel is set.