Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fried Cheese Blintzes for Hanukkah? Sephardim Shed Light on Why it is Customary to Eat Dairy Foods.

Guess what? There are two dairy holidays in the Jewish tradition. That is, if you come from a Sephardi background. We all connect dairy with Shavuot. But Hanukkah? Yes, Hanukkah. If your ethnic roots are Kurdish or Persian, then you're eating dairy delights on Hanukkah.

Sephardi women love to cook, so it’s no coincidence that this custom directly relates to one of the Hanukkah heroines. Maccabim aside, who else knew how to live by the sword and make the enemy die by the sword? Judith, of course. An attractive, seductive, wealthy widow, she knew how to milk a situation for all its worth. That’s why when the Assyrian general Holofernes blockaded the city she lived in and cut off its water supply, Judith understood what had to be done. She went to the general’s camp and pretended to surrender. Holofernes was so struck by Judith’s good looks that he invited her into his tent. Judith came armed with just the right weapons – wine and cheese. The combination was even more delectable than Judith’s beauty. The general ate, drank and didn’t have a chance to make merry because he fell into a drunken sleep. A slumber so deep that Judith easily beheaded him and saved her people from the siege. To honor Judith’s daring deed, Sephardim eat dairy and fried foods on Hanukkah.

What does this mean for your classroom? A lot. To begin with, it opens the window on Hanukkah’s heroines. Who were these women who showed their mettle? The girls in your class will be happy to know and the boys will learn a lesson or two about female bravery. Next, what about your Hanukkah celebration? Ask some of the parents to help you out with a Hanukkah cottage cheese noodle kugel or fry up some classic cheese blintzes that fit the double bill of dairy foods fried in oil. Want the kids to “cook” on their own? Mixing granola with yogurt and topping it with fresh or dried berries is easy to do. How about a “7-layer cream cheese cake” made from whole wheat bread and low-fat cream cheese? I just thought of these two options off the top of my head, so I can imagine the creative “cooking” ideas you’ll come up with. Whatever dairy dish you decide to bake or make, enjoy and have a Hanukkah Sa'meach.

Don’t forget, you can buy my book Hanukkah Around the World through Karben’s on-line book store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Borders, or your local Judaica store.

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