Friday, December 23, 2011

The Festival of Latkes

Well, okay, Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights, sure, but the candles we light symbolize and substitute for the oil that was burned in the Temple, which was a special type of sacred, purified and sanctified olive oil, the same olive oil we use to cook various foods, including potato pancakes, otherwise known as latkes.

And here's a little tidbit from the Wikipedia entry on Potato pancake:

The word leviva, the Hebrew name for latke, has its origins in the Book of Samuel's description of the story of Amnon and Tamar. Some interpreters have noted that the homonym levav means "heart," and the verbal form of l-v-v occurs in the Song of Songs as well.

Latkes need not necessarily be made from potatoes. Prior to the introduction of the potato to the Old World, latkes were, and in some places still are, made from a variety of other vegetables, cheeses, legumes, or starches, depending on the available local ingredients and foodways of the various places where Jews lived.

And  maybe you've got an old family recipe for making latkes, but maybe not, maybe you'd like some help, or are looking for new ideas, or just want to compare.  So here, courtesy of the Union for Reform Judaism, is a two-part video demonstration on how to make potato pancakes, by Tina Wasserman, author of the acclaimed Jewish cookbook Entree to Judaism:

And maybe you'd like some nice music to accompany you while you're cooking and/or eating your latkes, so here is a recording of the late Debbie Friendman performing her famous "Latke Song" live at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston in 2001:

And here are the lyrics for you to read:

I am a latke, I'm a latke
And I am waiting for Chanukah to come
I am a latke, I'm a latke
And I am waiting for Chanukah to come

I am so mixed up that I cannot tell you,
I'm sitting in this blender turning brown.
I've made friends with the onions and the flour,
And the cook is scouting oil in the town.
I sit here wondering what will come of me,
I can't be eaten looking as I do.
I need someone to take me out and cook me,
Or I'll really end up in a royal stew.


Every holiday has foods so special,
I'd like to have that same attention too,
I do not want to spend life in this blender,
Wondering what I'm supposed to do.
Matza and choroset are for Pesach,
Chopped liver and challah for Shabbat
Blintzes on Shavuot are delicious,
And gefilte fish no holiday's without.


It's important that I have an understanding
Of what it is that I'm supposed to do,
You see, there are many who are homeless,
With no jobs, no clothes and very little food.
It's so important that we all remember,
That while we have most of the things we need,
We must remember those who have so little,
We must help them, we must be the ones to feed.


And if you're a regular viewer of the ABC network's program, Grey's Anatomy, you probably have heard the song, "Latke Clan," performed by The LeeVees.  Here's a live version, performed at 2007 convention of the Reform Jewish youth organization NFTY  (North American Federation of Temple Youth):

And now for the lyrics:

Hanukkah, I know it's gonna be all right
Everyone's together tonight
Feeling good, it's Hanukkah

Two candles lit
The holiday's just begun
We're in for lots of fun
The time has come, it's Chanukah

The sun is setting
Get home as fast as you can
We'll put the oil into the pan
So come and join our Latke Clan
Cause we are latke fans
It's true

Your uncle's here
Flew in from out of town
It's nice to have him around
Even though he's weird
It's Chanukah

Santa's cool
But Hanukkah Harry's the man
So come and join our latke clan
We'll save you a plate
It's Hanukkah

The sun is setting
Get home as fast as you can
We'll put the oil into the pan
So come and join our latke clan

Sun is setting, get home as fast as you can
We'll put the oil into the pan
So come and join our latke clan
Cause we are latke fans

Your weird uncle is doing the can-can
Hanukkah Harry, he's the man
Everyone's here, it's Hanukkah

And in the category of holiday season toys that never quite made it, here's one you no doubt have never heard of, Latke Larry (we're not sure if he's any relation to Hanukkah Harry):

How about a nice story instead?  Courtesy of, we can enjoy this charming, animated tale from the old country, A Magical Latke Story, narrated by none other than famous television celebrity Bob Saget:

And what's that you say?  You want to hear a different "Latke Song" now?  Sure, here's one:

And, for our coda, here's a nice amateur video featuring holiday images, set to the studio version of Debbie Friedman's "Latke Song":

And with that, we hope you've liked our virtual latkes.  Now go and enjoy some real latkes of your own!  B'tayavon!

And don't forget to join us this evening, at 7 PM, for the Leonia Community Menorah Lighting outside of our shul, followed by our Shabbat service, and a Hanukkah party of an oneg!  With, you guessed it, lots and lots of latkes!

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