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Hanukkah--A Chance to Rededicate Myself to Passing On This Grandmother's Traditions: Plus Recipes

Christmas and Hanukkah overlap this year. Too many mail order catalogues filled my mailbox each day, making my gift indecision more confusing.

Hanukkah wrapping paper is more eclectic, Hanukkah decorations bigger and better, Hanukkah toys talk or have answers for everything, and the dreidel has entered the age of specialization. It has now become a collector's item in crystal, silver, or gold.  

As a youngster, I was given one gift on the last night of Hanukkah. The other nights my dad gave me new silver dollars, one for each candle we lit. Our grandchildren are given a present every night, and Hanukkah gelt, money, has now become chocolate coins in gold and silver bags that one can eat but not spend. Unfortunately, while the government still mints silver dollars, their cost has skyrocketed.

Today, teenagers want CDs. I thought CD's were something you bought for your future, not something musical. My pre-school-age grandchildren ask for computer games. What bubbie, grandmother, knew from computers a few years ago? I was introduced to a new world with its own vocabulary. For instance, if the computer isn't compatible with the game, the game doesn't work, and then you're in trouble with the grandchildren.

Cookie baking has turned into an "exchange." When I was a small child, cheese spreads were sold in small glass jars with interesting designs printed on the outside of the jars. My mother used these to cut out Hanukkah cookies by the dozens. Now cutters come in every shape for every occasion. I'm still trying to replace my favorite Hanukkah cookie cutter: a plastic Lion of Judah whose tail got broken the year our first grandson, now sixteen, helped me bake the Hanukkah cookies. As each grandson approaches the right age for baking, I get the same question, "Bubbie, what happened to the lion's tail?"

With intermarriage in the family, Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations have become times for sharing and understanding. Raised in Kentucky, the only Jewish child in my class, my parents would invite my schoolmates to our home for a Hanukkah party. After we lit the menorah, each child was given a silver dollar, plus a small box containing a Christmas ornament for their Christmas tree. It was mother's way of helping us understand all holidays have special traditions.

As a modern Jewish bubbie, I'm aware our grandsons' other grandparents need to share the joy of their holiday, too. They give our grandsons Hanukkah presents at Hanukkah, and our grandsons give them Christmas presents at Christmas. Though the traditions of Hanukkah and Christmas may be different, our grandchildren have been taught about and understand these differences.

Our Israeli son-in-law has added a new tradition to our Hanukkah celebration. Sufganiyot! Israeli doughnuts! Family and friends wait with great anticipation for Avi to walk out of the kitchen carrying a tray of those sweet puffs of dough filled with raspberry jelly.

As I see it, Hanukkah celebrations may be more elaborate along with the children's expectations, yet they provide an opportunity for me to rededicate myself to passing on traditions, understanding, and an appreciation of religious freedom to the next generation--along with my favorite Hanukkah recipes. I created these recipes to allow my grandchildren to help me cook and bake.

Cheese Pennies or Edible Hanukkah Gelt
Makes about 3 dozen

These pennies are a great accompaniment to a good bowl of soup. They also make a great party hors d'oeuvre or snack, and they freeze well.

Ingredients
1 stick of unsalted butter or margarine-room temperature
One 10-ounce package, grated, sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup flour
Dash Worcestershire sauce
Dash cayenne pepper
1/4-teaspoon caraway seeds (Optional)

Method
1. Cut the butter or margarine into 8 pieces. Place in the bowl of your food processor or electric mixer. Add the cheese and flour. Pulse several times or mix together on low speed. Add the Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper and caraway seeds. Process until a ball begins to form around the blade, or mix on medium speed until it begins to form a ball.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll the cheese dough into a long log. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 400°F. Slice the log into 1/2-inch pennies. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cool 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to cake rack to cool completely. Enjoy!

Easy Apple Sauce
Make 2 to 2- 1/2 quarts

Applesauce is synonymous with latkes. Using a food mill is quicker, but you can use a strainer, which takes a little more time. I like to use a combination of Macintosh and Winesap apples. Since you don't need to peel or core these, the kids can help put them in the pot, and later help turn the food mill or hold the strainer to make the sauce.

Ingredients
3 pounds of apples
1- 1/2 cup sugar
l cinnamon stick
Wedge of lemon, squeezed
1/2 teaspoon coriander
l teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cardamom

Method
l. Do not peel or seed the apples. Cut them into quarters. Place in a 6-quart saucepan with the remaining ingredients and the lemon wedge. Add 1/2 cup water and bring it to boil. Lower heat to simmer and cook 15 minutes, or until the apples are soft.
2. Empty the contents into a large colander, placed over a large bowl, to catch the juice.
3. Place the food mill or strainer over a large bowl. Add the apples and stir or press the apples, releasing the fruit and leaving the peel and seeds. Stir the drained juice into the applesauce. Serve warm or at room temperature. This freezes well.

A Hebrew term for a doughnut, often eaten in Israel during Hanukkah. They are usually filled with jelly and covered in sugar. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. Yiddish for "spin," a four-sided spinning top played with during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Hebrew for "candelabrum" or "lamp," it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel's coat of arms.) Yiddish for "grandmother." Yiddish word for a potato pancake, traditionally eaten during Hanukkah. Yiddish for "money," usually refers to chocolate coins given on Hanukkah (and used as bets during the dreidel game).
Zell Schulman

Zell Schulman is the author of several cookbooks, including Passover Seders Made Simple (Hungry Minds, 2001, $16.95).

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