Tag Archives: Chanukah

Maccabeats Suffer “Wardrobe Malfunction”

By Doni Kandel

The Yeshiva University Maccabeats, the university’s a capella group that has taken the United States by storm, received one of their first ugly lessons in stardom Monday morning. While taping a performance on the CBS Early Show, Maccabeats vocalist Nachum Joel suffered a wardrobe malfunction after one of his beat-mates bumped into him, knocking his yarmulke to the ground, exposing the top of his head. Joel frantically picked up the fallen skull cap and slammed it back on his head but the CBS cameras had already caught every second of his nude scalp on tape.

This, of course, was not the first time CBS has been victimized by unfortunate garment error. CBS was the station that covered Super Bowl XXXVIII when Janet Jackson was briefly exposed by co-performer Justin Timberlake during their half-time performance. CBS-Daytime Senior Vice President Barbara Bloom told reporters Monday that “Kipa-gate”, as it has come to be known, has been far worse. “I have had phone calls from just about every single high school rabbi in the country. They are upset with our handling of the situation and for some strange reason many of them have tried to convince me that talking to boys is bad for my spiritual growth as well as trying to convince me to go to a seminary in Israel for a year. My insistence that I am almost forty did very little to deter them.”

The FCC has joined up with the JCC to discuss an appropriate fine for the television station as well as the appropriate actions to be taken with the young singers.

A number of Rabbis who teach at Yeshiva University claim to have warned the fledgling stars of the potential pitfalls of achieving fame and fortune. Rabbi David Hersh, a rabbi in the YU Yeshiva Program lamented that, “I told them up and down something like this would happen! What’s next? A gig at a treif [non-kosher] restaurants? An office Christmas party? Hashem yerachem!”

Although he is newly engaged (mazal tov!) Joel has admitted his skull cap mishap has earned him some extra female attention. “I’m not gonna lie to you,” he told reporters outside the YU campus in scenic Washington Heights, “The shidduch proposals have been flowing in by the hundreds. It’s pretty flattering once you weed out all those strange top-of-the-head enthusiasts.”

While Joel has managed to find the lighthearted side of the mishap, other Maccabeats members have been unable to share his calm. A number of the group’s members who plan on visiting Israel over winter break are now fearful of being met at Ben-Gurion Airport by a sea of Ultra-Orthodox garbage burning protests. Maccabeats member Immanuel Shalev issued a plea to the Haredi community to “please just let my family get from the Airport to Big Apple Pizza, the Kipa Man on Ben Yehuda Street  and then to the David Citadel Hotel, in peace.”

Similar to the Janet Jackson fiasco, a number of conspiracy theories have materialized as to the real nature of the yarmulke gaffe. There have been whispers amongst the Jewish a capella community that while the Maccabeats knew that the inappropriate exposure would be frowned upon at their own university, they may have orchestrated the bare-all in order to find favor in the notoriously more raucous University of Maryland Jewish Community. Another popular theory places the blame on famous Jewish Reggae artist Matisyahu.  Matisyahu is alleged to have replaced Joel’s yarmulke clips with far weaker ones before the live on-air appearance, insuring that the whipping New York early morning wind would launch his head covering sky high. Proponents of this conspiracy claim that the motive for the Reggae sensation is apparent bitterness over the Maccabeats receiving almost two million more hits on YouTube for their hit song “Candle Light” (2,251,391 at press time) than Matisyahu’s own new Chanukah song “Miracle” (367,552), despite the a capella group’s performance as the opening act for Matisyahu at YU’s Chanukah Party a week ago.

When asked if they would ever consider performing with Timberlake now that they are forever linked in pop culture, Joel told reporters he certainly would, “as long as he promises to keep his hands away from my tzitzit.”


An Ancient Synagogue in Damascus

By Samantha Sisskind

If you go to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City in Damascus, Syria, you’ll find hardly any obvious traces of Jewish life.  There remains a school that is unidentifiable as a Jewish institution, a few doors with the Star of David engraved in the granite lintel of the doorways, a small unobtrusive synagogue, abandoned houses and storefronts and some dusty narrow streets.  If you didn’t know it was there, it would be virtually unrecognizable as a relic of a once-vibrant Jewish community with a heritage and history centuries long. However, the major monument to Jewish life in the country lies in the National Museum of Syria, just a few minutes outside of the Old City. At the very end of the classical period wing, past the Greek, Roman and Palmyrene exhibits, you’ll find a reconstruction of a third century synagogue from the initially Syrian Greek city of Dura Europos, a trading hub along the Euphrates River. Not only will you see beautiful clay wall and ceiling tiles painted with flora and fauna, but also frescoes from the walls of the synagogue depicting scenes from the Torah and portraits of Abraham, Ezra and Moses.

The frescoes from the synagogue at Dura Europos tell a fascinating story of one of the first synagogues erected in the Jewish Diaspora. Hidden under a ramp built by the Persians at the end of the third century C.E., the synagogue’s frescoes were undisturbed for over fifteen hundred years afterward until its discovery by the British military in 1921. The style and character of the frescoes at the synagogue borrow from Hellenistic art, and the architecture draws from the dominant Byzantine religious art culture of the time of the temple’s construction. Of the four frescoed walls, the best preserved is the Western Wall, which benefited from the ramp’s direct protection and faces Jerusalem. Surrounding a permanent ark niche carved into the wall are paintings of David as the King over Israel; the Red Sea crossing; the infancy of Moses; the anointing of David; Solomon and the Queen of Sheba; the sacrifice of Isaac; Moses receiving the tablet and many other biblical stories. The lack of any archaeological evidence for a gender separation barrier in the prayer room makes the worship culture of the Dura Europos Jews even more curious and divergent from the traditional Jewish practices.

While artistic renditions of animals and scenes from the Torah have been found on Jewish artifacts from that time period, nothing of this magnitude and detail has ever been discovered.  Some scholars maintain that the Jews in Dura Europos were influenced by the decorated Christian churches in the same city and Dura Europos was home to several religious groups and tolerant of the faiths of all its residents.  Yet the more prevalent theory is that the synagogue was decorated and painted to resemble a Roman temple so that worshippers could avoid religious persecution.

On the surface, it appears that the Jews of Dura Europos diverted from their faith in order to avoid punishment from the Romans. However, upon second glance, they seem more like Hannah and her sons in the Hanukkah story, who refused to break the commandments or apostatize, even when faced with execution. Like them, the Jews of Dura Europos prayed under the Romans’ noses and defied Roman law in order to stay true to their Jewish heritage while they were far from the Holy Land.

The Dura Europos Jewish community’s beliefs and interpretations of the Torah remain a mystery to this day, but the synagogue is a monument to the development and transition of Jewish faith and practices in the Diaspora. It is a testament to the existence of Jewish life outside the Holy Land, and a rare example of the resilience of a Jewish community in the face of unfriendly foreign occupation.

Traveler’s Note: If you are able to pay a visit to Syria and you’d like to go to the National Museum in Damascus to see the frescoes from the synagogue at Dura Europos, don’t plan your trip for the upcoming year. The entire classical wing is currently closed for renovations, and a few other exhibits are closed for renovations as well. Visiting to the ruins themselves may be slightly disappointing as little remains but rocky foundations, and would require much imagination to picture the city as it once was. However, viewing the museum in Damascus first and then traveling to the historical site near the modern town of Salhieh will give you more context and insight, and would be a much more educational and beneficial experience.

This article referenced the book “Dura Europos,” written by Bashir Zahdi and published by the National Museum of Syria in Damascus, as well as a very well synthesized and researched article analyzing the historical significance of the art and architecture of the synagogue.

Recipe: Sumac or Za’atar Latkes

Both sumac and za’atar (hyssop) were biblical spices, the former used to impart a lemony flavor to food, and the latter to season almost anything. During the time of the Macabbees’ revolt in late autumn, and lemony sumac berries had just been harvested, and za’atar grew wild in the hills.

Today, the word za’atar refers to a spice blend of hyssop, salt, sumac and sesame seeds, popular on bread, in salads, and over yogurt cheese. You can find sumac and za’atar in Middle Eastern and Persian markets. This recipe was created by Nadav Granot, chef at the biblical gardens of Neot Kedumim, in Israel.


Makes about 8-10 (Serves 4-5)

  • ½ cup virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (1 medium-large)
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt (slightly less if using za’atar)
  • 1 tablespoon prepared za’atar mix or dried crushed sumac
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 – 2 ½   tablespoons hot water
  • Thick Yogurt or Sour Cream

Pour ¼ cup oil into a frying pan and sauté the onion and garlic till lightly golden, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the sumac or za’atar.

Stir in the onion and garlic mixture and beat in the eggs. The batter will be thick and sticky.

Add 2 tablespoons water (or more if necessary) so that the batter is the consistency of pancake batter.

Heat the remaining oil and use a small cup or soup ladle to form 3-4 small latkes each time. Fry on both sides till golden. Serve with a dollop of thick yogurt or sour cream.

Adapted from The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking, by Phyllis Glazer with Miriyam Glazer (Harper-Collins 2004).

Sufganiyot Muffins from Modern Domestic

By Jenna Huntsberger – The Modern Domestic
Haunakah started Wednesday, which means it’s time to dust off your favorite Haunakah recipes. Because Haunakah celebrates the miracle of the oil, the holiday usually features fried foods – latkes, fried potato pancakes, are the food of choice in the United States, and sufganiyot, fried jelly doughnuts, are the popular treat in Israel.

Being a baker, I naturally gravitate to making sufganiyot – and, in fact, I did make themlast year. But I’m not much of a deep fryer. I don’t have a fryer myself, and my attempts at frying the doughnuts in my four quart pot didn’t turn out so well – they were overcooked on the outside and barely cooked through.

This year, I spared myself the pain, and made sufganiyot muffins instead.

Doughnut muffins have been all the rage on the Internet for years, and now that I’ve made them, I understand why – they’re delicious. You take a bready, moist dough, flavor it with nutmeg, and bake it in muffins tins. Then, you brush the muffins with butter (or, in my case, dipped them in butter), and coat them in cinnamon sugar. Finally, fill them with the jam or preserve of your choice. I used a mixer berry jam that I made from all the fruit hogging precious space in my freezer – it was a tart, refreshing contrast to the sweet, buttery muffin.

Yes, these muffins aren’t fried in oil – they’re coated in butter – but there’s oil in the batter, and that’s enough for me. Now that I’ve tried sufganiyot muffins, I don’t think I’ll ever be tempted to fry mine again.

I really like them when they’re warm, and the coating comes off on your fingers.

Sufganiyot Muffins
Makes 24 muffins
Adapted from King Arthur Flour

For the muffins:

  • ¼ cup (4 oz) butter
  • ¼ cup (4 fl oz) canola oil
  • ½ cup (3.5 oz) sugar
  • ⅓ cup (2.8 oz) dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 ⅔ cups (13.33 oz) AP flour
  • 1 cup (8 fl oz) buttermilk

For the topping and filling:

  • 2 oz butter, melted
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ cup (2 fl oz) jam or preserves (of your choice)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, oil, sugar, and dark brown sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until combined. Add the vanilla extract and mix until incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

Add the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk, in three additions (ending with the dry). Scoop or pipe the batter into well-greased muffin tins – each tin should be about ⅔ full.

Bake for 20 minutes, rotating 180 degrees halfway through, until lightly browned. Let cool in the pans until cool enough to handle – then remove. (If you have trouble removing the muffins from the tins, run a knife or offset around the edge to loosen. Or, turn the pan over and rap on the counter to pop them out).

To finish muffins:

Mix together the cinnamon and sugar. Lightly brush the muffins with the melted butter (or dip in the melted butter), and roll in the cinnamon sugar. Fill a piping bag with jam and fit with a medium round tip. Plunge the tip into the center of the muffin and fill with jam. Repeat with remaining muffins.

Re-blogged from Modern Domestic.

The Secret History of Hanukkah

By Gabriel Weinstein

Students in Hebrew schools and Jewish day schools learn that Hanukkah is the celebration of the Maccabees’ improbable military triumph and the miraculous burning of the Beit Hamikdash’s (Holy Temple’s) Menorah for eight days, a holiday for crooning festive tunes and wagering intense games of dreidel. But Hanukkah’s origins in the Nayrot festival are usually never mentioned during classroom discussions or a meal over latkes.

Nayrot (light) was an ancient winter holiday celebrating the increased daylight promised by the winter solstice, and was observed in a way similar to Hanukkah. Nayrot had similar qualities and occurred around the same time as the Greek-Syrian holiday celebrating sun god Kronos-Helios’s birthday, which was observed by Jews and non-Jews in Israel and Greek occupied territories. Households kindled eight flames on a fireboard in their house each night of the eight-day festival. Some added a flame each night while others reduced the number of lit flames. Lighting fires was done to mimic the earth’s natural cycles and believed to persuade nature to elongate daylight. Light’s association with life and darkness’s symbolism of death imbued Nayrot with rejuvenation and optimism.  Nayrot was eight days to mirror the length of Passover and Sukkot, the other holidays associated with seasonal changes.

Nayrot seemed primed to establish itself as the third major Jewish seasonal holiday. But religious authorities during the reign of King Hezekiah, whose reign occurred during a period known as the priestly era, scoffed at the idea of Nayrot becoming a major celebration endorsed by the Torah. Nayrot was rejected because it had no explicit divine connections, nor was it associated with the Exodus from Egypt. Nayrot was relegated as a folk festival until the Maccabees seized power and changed the holiday’s meaning to fulfill their personal ambitions.

When the Maccabees defeated the Greek ruler Antochius IV’s regime in 165 BCE they were eager to restore the defiled Beit HaMikdash. Some believe the Maccabees defeated the Greeks in October but waited until the winter to begin their restoration so it corresponded with Nayrot. Judah Maccabee, the military leader of the Maccabees, renamed Nayrot Hanukkah (dedication), and intended it to mark the rededication of the Beit HaMikdash to God.  The transition wasn’t too difficult; both holidays celebrate similar human triumphs. According to Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine, founder of the Humanistic Judaism, Nayrot celebrated humans’ ability to produce fire. The ability to produce fire was a crucial step in the development of human self-confidence and essential to societal advancement, says Wine. Though Judah Maccabee most likely did not intend to perpetuate the values of Nayrot, Hanukkah’s emphasis on the Beit HaMikdash’s renewal and personal spiritual rejuvenation seamlessly mesh with the themes of the holiday.

The Book of Hasmoneans implies Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days because the Maccabees had forgotten to observe the eight days of Sukkot while immersed in battle. The Maccabees wanted Hanukkah to become a flagship holiday, but religious authorities cringed. They resented Hanukkah because they believed the Maccabees had unfairly assumed power over the Judean kingdom. When the Rabbinical establishment regained power under Roman rule, Hanukkah was deemed a minor holiday like its predecessor Nayrot.

Though Rabbinic authorities sought to expunge Nayrot and Hanukkah from the canon of Jewish holidays, aspects of the two festivals–some manufactured, others stemming from the original  holiday celebrations–have become vital parts of the modern Hanukkah celebration. In the centuries following Hanukkah’s establishment, its religious aspects have been amplified. Many scholars believe rabbis created the idea of the Hanukkah miracle to draw attention away from Hanukkah’s glorification of the Maccabees’ military might. This was an expression of the rabbinical authorities’ frustration that the Maccabees asserted intellectual authority over divine dictums and claimed royal authority though they were not descendants of King David.

Although religious authorities sought to hide Hanukkah’s origins as a folk festival, the spirit and practices of Nayrot lives on.  The “Hovevi Zion” Zionist movement of the late 1800’s adopted Hanukkah as their major holiday. They viewed the story of Hanukkah as a metaphor mirroring the Zionist struggle to fortify Jewish identity.  Today the city of Haifa uses Hanukkah as a catalyst to promote interfaith solidarity through their annual “Holiday of Holidays” festival celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas and Ramadan. The transformation of Hanukkah from a folk holiday celebrating fire to a festival celebrating divine miracles, military victories and Jewish identity is the ultimate example of the fluidity of Jewish tradition and the effect of cultural impacts that will continue to be a hallmark of ever-evolving Jewish history.

Rededicating Hanukkah Foods

By Merav Levkowitz

For those of us with food allergies and intolerances, social events tend to be awkward and isolating. So many Jewish events revolve around food and involve eating in social settings or at the houses of others. Though many Jews are used to  accommodating kashrut, vegetarianism, and lactose intolerance, which is common among Jews (but irrelevant during a kosher meat meal!), it can be uncomfortable to ask even the most accommodating host to modify his/her menu or recipes and cook differently, especially when old family recipes are at hand. Celiac disease is one such dietary restriction that requires extra attention and is rising in the prevalence in general and especially among Jews.

Celiac disease is, in a nutshell, an autoimmune digestive disease in which the body is unable to tolerate gluten, the protein in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. The exact cause of Celiac disease remains unknown, but it is genetic and often triggered by environmental factors or intense physical event like illness, pregnancy or severe stress. In response to the offensive gluten, the immune system attacks and destroys the villi, the finger-like projections that line the inside of the small intestine and absorb nutrients into the bloodstream. Celiac disease that goes undiagnosed can manifest itself in a wide range of deceptive symptoms, including digestive issues, fatigue, infertility and seizures, among others, and can ultimately result in malnutrition and elevated risks for many illnesses and infections. Once diagnosed, the only way to treat it is to maintain a diet that is strictly free of gluten, which, in addition to being found in the primary grains mentioned above and their products, hides in many other products, like sauces, dressings, food fillers, lip gloss, and envelope adhesive.

In the Jewish world, a gluten-free diet means no challah, matzoh balls, sufganiyot (doughnuts), or even latkes (potato pancakes). Even with the increased awareness and greater supply of specialized products available in stores, maintaining a gluten-free diet often gives the impression of perpetual Passover. We Jewish Celiacs get used to reading labels and asking questions religiously, hosting, testing gluten-free recipes, cooking for ourselves and knowing that we will have to satisfy ourselves solely with the aroma of most challot. Although we cannot eat matzoh, during Passover we bask in the joy of knowing that for eight days our friends and family may get a small taste of what we experience year-round. Still, there is a feeling of loss that comes with not being able to participate in many Jewish rituals, mitzvot, and family traditions.

But with Hanukkah approaching, there is hope for Celiacs and our friends to reclaim the holiday this year and make it safe and enjoyable for all! Try out these flourless potato latkes and gluten-free sufganiyot, and check out this line-up of other gluten-free Hanukkah recipes. Hanukkah is, after all, about rededication and miracles and what better way to celebrate this than by sharing doughnuts that are safe for everyone?!  Happy cooking, and happy Hanukkah!

Recipe: Bumuelos In Red Wine Sauce

Here’s another great Hanukkah recipe.  Jews of Spanish origin developed bumuelos or buñuelos—fritters or pancakes fried in olive oil and dipped in honey or sugar syrup or sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar—as sweet Hanukkah treats.  Here’s a modern take on the Sephardi classic!  Read more on the history of Hanukkah foods in Moment‘s latest “Talk of the Table” here!


Makes about 14-15 (Serve 2-3 per portion)

For the Bumuelos:

  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup butter
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 ½ cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • Canola oil for frying

For the Red Wine Sauce:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • ⅔ cup dry red wine
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 whole cloves

Prepare the Red Wine sauce first: Mix the ingredients together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the syrup thickens to the consistency of honey. Keep warm. (Overcooking the sauce will make it harden). Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring the water, butter, sugar and salt to a boil and set aside. Place the flour in the bowl of a mixer. Turn the mixer on low speed and add the boiling liquid mixture. Continue mixing on low speed until a soft dough is formed that leaves the side of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

Heat 1½” canola oil in a wide pan. Line a plate with paper towels. Using a medium ice cream scoop or two tablespoons, form a ball of the mixture and slip into the hot oil. If the ball is difficult to form, beat in an additional tablespoon or two of flour. Fry 4-5 balls at a time on medium-high heat till golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on the paper toweling to remove excess oil. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Reheat the wine sauce over low heat until very warm.  Pour 3 tablespoons of sauce on each serving plate. Set 2-3 bumuelos on top and serve.

“Adapted from The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking, by Phyllis Glazer with Miriyam Glazer (Harper-Collins 2004).”