I’ve been wandering around inside this holiday trying to find my spiritual compass. It doesn’t help when Mom, on being told it’s Chanukah, says in a snippy voice, “I don’t care.”
As an antidote to the sadness I was feeling after my visit today, I went to the local mall. The stores were all decorated with Chanukah themes. It was a lively place to be. I was excited to bump into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Judy told me about her recent visit to her father in his senior residence. While he still recognizes her, he has lost the ability to carry on a significant conversation; he is easily distracted and forgets his train of thought. We commiserated over the fact that our parents look much the same as they did when they were younger. In those first seconds of seeing them, we could almost believe they were whole. It is disconcerting to realize again and again that they are not the same as they once were.
I recounted to Judy my visit to Mom that morning, how uninterested she was in engaging with me, how the wonderful “toys” that the occupational therapist placed before her remained untouched.
It buoyed me to remember that I am not alone in facing the worries of caring for aging parents.
By the time I walked home, I was feeling better. Chanukah’s significance lies in our ability to recognize the miracles in our lives, however small they may be. On the first night, as we lit the first of eight candles, we said three blessings, the first for kindling the lights of Chanukah; the second for miracles that God gave our forefathers in those days and in this time; and the third, thanking God who has given us life, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this day.
These are ancient blessings. Chanukah has been celebrated since the second century BCE. The third blessing, Shehechiyanu, also dates back some 2000 years and appears in the Talmud. Chanukah falls in the Hebrew month of Kislev when the moon is the thinnest sliver of a crescent and the night sky is dark. The candles we light vanquish that darkness.
Our Chanukiah was always displayed in our kitchen window that faced the street when I was growing up. I remember the ritual of tying the frilly yellow curtains up so the flames could not touch them. I remember the pride I felt as we gathered to light the candles each night, the glow that could be seen beyond the prominent dogwood tree all the way to the curb, how we often had a Chanukah party with our non-Jewish neighbors and shared our bounty. (I traded chocolate Chanukah coins for my friend Jenn’s candy canes!)
When my kids were little, we would celebrate with my parents, visiting Netanya during the Chanukah school vacation. The candles created a shimmery reflection in their large living room windows. That’s when the kids invariably got the best presents; Mom was a generous Savta (Hebrew for grandmother).
Two days ago, a friend battling cancer told me how significant it was for her to say those three blessings, how they affirmed her presence in this world and gave her strength to move forward. I know there are no “miracles” hiding in the darkness that is Alzheimer’s, but I can look forward to lighting candles with Mom tomorrow at her ward’s Chanukah party. Perhaps she’ll be moved to sing in her still, small voice the blessings and songs that echo in our very beings.
I walked into my kitchen this week and decided to fry latkes, potato pancakes, or as they’re called in Hebrew, levivot. I was able to use only 4 tablespoons of oil in the whole recipe, so that’s something. Plus, I added zucchini to the mixture and I topped them with a dollop of homemade applesauce. This really made me happy.
Zucchini Potato Latkes
There is a great debate about whether it is preferable to grate or puree these vegetables when making latkes. I used to grate all my potatoes for this dish. My mother-in-law, bless her, once told me that she only likes her husband’s latkes that are pureed in the food processor before frying. Her loyalty to my father-in-law’s cooking is legendary in our house. (Don’t ever ask about the pumpkin pie fiasco or the corn bread.) This batch of latkes was pureed in honor of Marilyn and George.
This recipe is super easy to halve or double, depending on the number of people you’re feeding. My batch made about 16 latkes.
4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
4 Tbsp flour
Salt and pepper to taste
4 Tbsp oil for frying (more if needed)
Place vegetable chunks in food processor and pulse until pureed. Spoon mixture into the center of a thin kitchen towel, gather the corners of the towel in one hand then squeeze with the other until most of the liquid comes out. Return “dried” mixture to a bowl and add egg, spices and flour. Pour half the oil into the bottom of a large frying pan over a medium flame. When oil is hot, spoon the mixture into the pan in small amounts, flattening them with the back of the spoon. Flip latkes when edges turn brown. Repeat for remaining latkes. Adjust flame so that latkes brown slowly. Serve hot with applesauce (recipe here).