8 Hanukkah Questions, Asked and Answered

by GatherDC Staff / November 29, 2022

Here we are, a little over two weeks away from the start of Hanukkah and a month away from the end of 2022 (we can’t believe it either). As we think about the upcoming holiday and the impending end of the year, GatherDC took some time to huddle together and chat about Hanukkah, contemplate the Jewish DMV community, and wander into no-man’s land in the sour cream v. applesauce debate. We’ve got questions, we’ve got answers – all you gotta do is scroll down. 

Gather staff work together (and watch the USA-Iran World Cup match) around the townhouse dining room table.

1. What is something you’re looking forward to about Hanukkah this year?

Paige: Taking time to bring more light into the world.

Shelly: Getting to know more about the holiday from my co-workers and my Aunt.

Sarah: Seeing which big box store wins for having the best Hanukkah display and supplies – right now, Bed Bath & Beyond is a top contender.

Alexandra: Hosting a Hanukkah party! I love having a noisy home filled with my framily, so I can’t wait to make latkes and eat donuts with everyone I love.

Sam: I’ve been looking for a latke recipe I actually enjoy for, like, years now (sorry, NYT Cooking). I just found some awesome-looking ones in Shannon Sarna’s Modern Jewish Comfort Food and am excited to test some of those out!

Rabbi Ilana: I’m looking forward to spending every single night of Hanukkah with a different group of people; from GatherDC community members to friends in DC to family in Massachusetts, thank goodness we have eight days to celebrate. There won’t be any FOMO for me this year! 

2. What about Hanukkah – the history, traditions, big ideas, etc – resonates with you this year?

Noa: Over the past couple years, I’ve drawn a lot of comfort from finding light in the darkness. The act of lighting the chanukiyah [Editor’s note: A chanukiyah / chanukiah, commonly referred to as a menorah, is the nine-branched candelabrum used during Hanukkah] each night feels like a purposeful way of bringing hope and warmth into my home. 

Ava: It teaches me to really cherish the little moments. Although it is incredible that light lasted 7 days longer than expected, it is so easy to get wrapped up in the fact that you are in the middle of a war and that the center of your entire religion, the temple, is about to be destroyed. With all that, you might not even notice the miracle happening before you. 

Rabbi Ilana: That wonderful things can often start really small. While lighting a full menorah on the last day of Hanukkah is a striking thing to see, I’m really going to cherish the humble, yet hopeful candle on day one this year. 

3. How do you see the Jewish community in the DMV embodying the qualities of resilience, endurance, and hope that accompany Hanukkah?

Sarah: One of the themes of Hanukkah I find powerful is maintaining and cultivating your Jewish identity in the face of forces that may attempt to disrupt. I am inspired by the ways the people of Jewish DMV find new, active, and meaningful ways to live out their Judaism every day.

Noa: Despite two-plus years of isolation and pandemic-related restrictions, the Jewish DMV has entered this new phase ready and eager to make new connections and deepen existing ones. I find that incredibly inspiring! 

Ava: Growing up in a very traditional background, I was raised to think there was only one type of Judaism. I saw it as a hierarchy; the closer you fit into and embodied that Judaism, the better a Jew you were. I have so much hope for the Jewish community I have found here in the DMV because there are so many different places to be your authentic Jewish self.

Rabbi Ilana: DC is a city (not yet a state!) with a lot going on all the time. Sometimes it feels like we’re at the center of so many contentious national issues that our community has had to intentionally find ways to be joyful, mutually supportive and hopeful such as coming together to celebrate our holidays with creativity, fun and meaning. 

4. What’s something new you’ve learned about Hanukkah or the different ways people celebrate recently?

Paige: I love seeing people’s different chanukkiot [Editor’s note: Chanukkiot, sometimes spelled chanukiyot – either way, the plural of chanukiah – see above!]. All kinds of Jews – Reform, Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Ultra-Orthodox, “Just Jewish,” etc. – have fun with their menorahs. I see dinosaur menorahs, menorahs made from recycled materials, sports-themed menorahs. It brings me a lot of joy to see how people put their own twists on such an important Jewish object. 

Rabbi Ilana: Something I’m thinking about a lot this year in particular is the similarities between the traditional placement of our chanukiyot outside our homes near our doorposts, just like our mezuzahs, for the sake of publicizing the miracle of the holiday. It’s much harder to do this in a cold climate like the Northeast, (which is why we rarely see outdoor chanukiyot) but there is something incredible about making our Hanukkah celebrations outward rather than inward that I’m really excited about.

Alexandra: I only learned the full scope of the Hanukkah story a few years ago (thank you Rabbi Ilana!). It’s a really interesting mix of resilience, resistance, physical force, and human agency. We spend a lot of time focusing on the beautiful aspects of the story –  and I appreciate the time to reflect on the “light within the darkness” theme, which is really important to me –  but there’s a lot more to this historical holiday, too! 

5. Latkes: let’s talk about ‘em. 

Sarah: Anybody else like a sweet potato latke? Just me?

Noa: Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. Sour cream AND applesauce. Enough said.

Alexandra: It is all about the potato starch ratio. 

Shelly: Definitely needs some nice crispiness on the outside. I’m a sour cream kind of person, but I can see the draw of some good applesauce as well.

Paige: Like Noa, I am firmly team sour cream AND applesauce. For me, it’s less about the latke itself and more about all of the things you can put on it. 

Sam: My first memory of latkes is from kindergarten. I went to a Quaker school, and one of the moms of a student in my grade came in around Hanukkah every year to teach us about the holiday and then, on a griddle in the back of the classroom, fry latkes. She always shredded the potatoes into these shoestring-like strips, so that’s the texture I still love. It brings back those memories of being little. I have to mention, though – I am wholeheartedly team sour cream. 

6. How is someone supposed to celebrate for 8 straight nights? Does everyone do this?

Sarah: Last year, I could only visit my parents for the last few nights of Hanukkah, so we lit half the candles the first night and the rest of them the second. It worked for us!

Noa: My parents used to give me a present every night, which was a celebration in and of itself. As an adult, I now find that simply lighting the chanukiyah at home each night is a small way of celebrating. 

Alexandra: I’m very obsessed with lighting candles each night and really try to make it happen (it’s one of my primary Jewish childhood memories). But there are also SO many awesome Hanukkah events and parties to go to in the DMV…it’s hard to balance both. But whatcha gonna do?

7. What have you viewed as a sort of miracle this past year?

Shelly: The ability to move into a new house during a hurricane!  Sure, some of our stuff got a little wet, but we made it work!

Noa: The fact that I’ve developed a sustainable exercise habit. It took me years to cultivate, but I’m so glad I did!

Sam: Short answer: Jalen Hurts, baby. Longer answer: I moved to DC in July 2020 and it was tough – I knew very few people in the area, was working 70+ hours a week between work and graduate school, and felt unable to really make a home in the city. 2022 was just completely different. There are so many people who have become regular fixtures in my life, sources of community and positivity (and enablers of sicko-level Philly sports fandom), none of whom I would have anticipated coming. There’s a miracle in that randomness. 

Paige: Looking back on it, all of the love I shared with my sweet cat Aspen, who passed away recently, was an incredible gift from the Divine. How lucky we are to love and be loved!

8. How do you feel about the specific timing of Hanukkah this year?

Paige: It makes it easier for my family to give me Hanukkah presents while they’re giving everyone else Christmas presents!

Noa: I appreciate that it feels like a prelude to Christmas this year. I’m in an interfaith partnership so it really feels like two straight weeks of celebration. Nothing wrong with that!

Sarah: I’m crossing my fingers that a later Hanukkah this year means we might get snow, which would just be so *festive*

Alexandra: I’m actually a fan of the Christmas / Hanukkah overlap. Christmas is the dominant holiday this time of year, and I personally find it nice to get to enjoy some of that slower pace and holiday vibe that permeates society at large.

8+1 Bonus! What is your favorite part of celebrating Hanukkah as an adult? 

Noa: Sharing it with my fiance, who isn’t Jewish! He’s Greek, though, so that aspect of the Hanukkah story can be a little awkward for him…

Sarah: Having meaningful discussions on the themes of Hanukkah with my family / friends / whoever I’m celebrating with that year. That and re-watching Chanukah at Bubbe’s. A seminal film of my childhood!

Ava: I don’t think it was designed this way on purpose but I love that most Jewish holidays are two nights. You get a little do-over card to try your jokes again, sample different traditions, or at least spread out the people you see. However, I love that Hanukkah is the ultimate do-over card. On each night I try to step into a new community, try a new ritual, or continue to alter my jokes until they land perfectly.

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