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Honoring In-Laws' Holidays: One Jewish Grandmother's Approach

Two of our four children are intermarried. Our oldest child's family only celebrates Hanukkah, as his wife chose Judaism. Our youngest child's family celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas, as his wife kept her own faith. Over the years, family holiday traditions have evolved which satisfy everyone.  

The first year of their marriages, we sent each child a menorah as a Hanukkah present. The only words on the card were "Happy Hanukkah, Love Mom and Dad." When our first grandchild turned three, we sent a child's size menorah at Hanukkah, along with a simple Hanukkah storybook. We have continued this tradition with each of our nine grandchildren. A tin of homemade Hanukkah cookies goes to each family, and our one Christian daughter-in-law receives her Christmas present at the same time, with a large note on it saying, "Do Not Open Till Christmas."

In the early years of our oldest son's marriage, we would be invited to our in-laws home to help trim the tree and to join them for Christmas dinner. The first time we went, I brought two Christmas ornaments for the Christmas tree. Over the years, the Christmas tree ornaments became a tradition. I enjoyed selecting and shopping for them, as it provided an opportunity for me to participate in the Christmas season in a new way.

These Christmas dinners and tree trimmings were an opportunity to feel a part of their family and became something we always looked forward to. A few years ago, our in-laws moved from a large home into smaller quarters and we no longer share Christmas, but we do get together for Thanksgiving at my oldest son's home. We acknowledge the holiday season by sending our non-Jewish in-laws interesting and tasty foodstuffs like dates, bourbon fudge, or caramels from the Trappestine Sisters at Thanksgiving. Our gift cards say, " Have a wonderful holiday season." Or "Happy Holidays." Our in-laws always bring homemade goodies for us, from their church bazaar.

Every holiday season, whether the Hanukkah and Christmas dates are close or far apart, I send my grandchildren a new Hanukkah decoration from Bubbie (Grandma) and Grandpa. This year, I was delighted when our daughter-in-law in California, who celebrates Christmas, called and asked me to send some Hanukkah background material she could use for her kindergarten class, as well as an easy potato pancake recipe. She has always been willing to learn and participate with their children in our Jewish holiday celebrations. This was her first year as a teacher's aide at the Waldorf School, and I was more than happy to help her.

My son and daughter-in-law have always had friends in their home for holiday dinners. He is a fabulous cook and loves preparing traditional holiday dishes. As I see it, the culinary road to Judaism is better than no road at all. I e-mailed my daughter-in-law this potato latke recipe from the manuscript I'm working on for my next cookbook. What more could a Bubbie ask for? Happy Holiday to all!

Potato Latkes from a Mix
(c) Zell Schulman
Makes about 24 latkes.

I developed this recipe for busy people who don't have much time to cook but want to make latkes for Hanukkah. There are several brands of packaged kosher potato pancakes, so you may want to try several until you find the one you like. The potatoes may be grated in your food processor using the grater blade.

Ingredients
2 large potatoes, grated medium
1 tablespoon finely grated onion
1/2 teaspoon breakfast pancake mix such as Aunt Jemima
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 large eggs
2 cups cold water
one six-ounce package kosher Potato Pancake Mix
1/4 cup vegetable oil for frying

Method

In a medium bowl combine the potatoes, onion, breakfast pancake mix, salt and pepper.

In a four-cup measure, whisk the eggs with the water. Pour over the grated potatoes and stir in the kosher potato pancake mix until smooth. Set aside 3 to 4 minutes for the mixture to thicken.

Preheat a medium frying pan, over medium high heat. Add the oil. Spoon a scant 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan for each latke. Fry until the latkes are just turning brown on one side, about 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the latkes over with a slotted spatula and brown the other side. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Note: If you plan to freeze the latkes, do not drain them. Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet in the freezer for 2 hours. Remove the latkes from the cookie sheet and place them in an airtight plastic freezer bag. These will keep no more than one month. When ready to serve, re-heat the latkes by placing them in single layers on a cookie sheet. Preheat the oven to 400 and heat the latkes 5 to 10 minutes. Place on a serving platter in single rows. If you pile one latke on another, they will get soggy.

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. 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." Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Yiddish word for a potato pancake, traditionally eaten during Hanukkah. Yiddish word for a potato pancake, traditionally eaten during Hanukkah.
Zell Schulman

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

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