What do you do when your kids are Jewish but attend Christian schools?
You won't find the answers in the Old Testament or the Talmud. But you might find answers in a cookbook, metaphorically speaking.
As someone who grew up in a kosher home, one thing I never anticipated was that my daughter, Alli, would go to a Catholic middle school and my son, Daniel, to an Episcopal grade school.
They learned a lot about Christianity, plus valuable lessons on tolerance and acceptance. But they felt different from all the other kids and they were getting mixed messages all day: Christian hymns at school, Bar Mitzvah lessons after school; dinnertime discussions on whether to take communion... Oy vey!
Of course, the Christmas holiday season only adds to the confusion. But then, I had an epiphany: When you're Jewish, the answer to everything is food.
Actually, I come from a long line of Jewish mothers who can't cook. I never ate a homemade latke until I was married. Still, making latkes made all the difference for my own kids. Not just at home, but at school.
I offered to go into their classrooms and cook latkes. Through this quintessential Jewish food, for the first time, their friends got a taste of Jewish tradition. The tantalizing smell would drift down the hall and I'm convinced that many kids -- and teachers -- would have converted on the spot.
It was worth all the work and all the mess. I was never sure who had more fun; the kids, or me, and I'm sure there are Jewish mothers doing this all over America.
Their classmates got hooked and also learned the story and traditions of Hanukkah. What kid wouldn't want eight days of presents instead of one? A few even insisted that their parents buy a menorah and light candles.
One friend of Daniel's was so enthused about latkes that when the kids got older and I stopped going into school, I invited him to celebrate Hanukkah at our home. It's remained a tradition even though they're all grown up. He comes over every year to get his latke fix; one year, he was so eager, he came a day early.
His name -- Christian -- fits the occasion, and now we never celebrate Hanukkah without him.
So here's the recipe for our Christian Hannukah:
POTATO LATKE RECIPE (If you're cooking for a whole class, triple this recipe)
7 medium-sized potatoes (peel if you prefer but ok with skins on or off)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons matzo meal
2 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
Oil for cooking (canola)
Applesauce, and sour cream for serving
Place a strainer into a large bowl.
Grate the potatoes and onion, mix together, and press the mixture into the strainer to drain the liquid.
Discard the liquid, dump the mixture from the strainer into the bowl.
Add the egg yolks, matzo meal, salt, and pepper. Mix together.
Beat the egg whites until they form hard peaks, and then fold them into the mixture. (Using the egg whites makes the latkes extra fluffy, but I often skip this step and just use beaten eggs to save time.)
Use about an inch of oil in a large pan; put on highest temperature at least 10 minutes before cooking.
Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil to form pancakes 2-3 inches around.
Cook until crispy and brown, and then flip over. Repeat until both sides are as crispy and brown as desired.
Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
Serve with applesauce and sour cream. (And Lipitor.)
It makes a Happy Hanukkah, whether you're Jewish or not.
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