I saw a swastika on my way to work the other day. I’m not exactly sure what they are getting at with the whole crossed out thing and yet Viva Palestine spelled out (you’d think if they wrote Viva Palestine it would be just a swastika? Is this tagger confused?). Either way, it was the first swastika I have ever noticed in real life, as opposed to on TV or the internet.
Sadly, I was not surprised.
It’s hard for me to tell whether the amount of antisemitism I have noticed lately is new, or I have just never noticed it before. Up until Jesse, my experience with Jews had been limited to a few friends who displayed their faith by refusing the occasional ham and cheese sandwich. They also summarize all Jewish holidays with the phrase: “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” Therefore, our differences seemed too few to matter. Of all the groups to pick on, why pick on a stereotypically well educated, non-violent, white minority who also believes in God?
Yet antisemitism seems to somehow still exist, and now more than ever.
It was with this attitude that I walked in the dark to my first Hanukkah celebration ever, carrying my very first homemade challah. As Jesse has commented before, I look very Jewish, and with a challah in hand, I must have looked doubly so. I felt wary. Ironically, I genetically resemble a Nazi more than anything else, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone in America these days who could tell the difference between my large German nose and a Jewish one. I know this, and therefore was comforted by the fact that my boxing classes had been going well of late. Anybody wanting to give me antisemitic crap on the 7th night of Hanukkah wasn’t going to find me so easily frightened!
Despite my preparedness, I made it to my friend’s house for the Hanukkah party without incident, challah intact.
During our little celebration, we ate latkes, challah, and drank (but of course!). It was natural to think about food and its significance. Latkes are good, challah is good, but they are kind of like dinner rolls and hash browns. However, somehow these foods get eaten year after year. I thought about how my grandmother used to make another type of braided bread, a haska, every year at Christmas time. Unlike challah, no one else but my family knows what that is. My thoughts turned back to the phrase “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!”
I’m not exactly a scholar of all things Jewish. My family keeps researching things and updating me (we try to understand everything through books/newspapers, even significant others) but even they wouldn’t consider themselves experts. It seems to be fairly obvious however, that the Jews have gotten dealt a sucky hand. I mean, Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, the rising of Christ, and Americans celebrate the 4th of July. Jews seems to celebrate a lot of holidays where they are just happy to be alive… Which makes sense because everybody and their mother has tried to kill them. The only equivalent I can think of is Thanksgiving, where we celebrate the fact that the original Americans didn’t die of starvation. Still, it feels different.
It occurred to me that perhaps, in light of my limited Jewish history, Jewish holiday food is more than just something to eat. After all, in order to eat, one has to be alive. Perhaps eating a Jewish food on a Jewish holiday is form of subversive protest. A polite “fuck you” to the world. I’m alive, I’m eating, and I’m still Jewish! So take that! Facebook is full of memes and articles complaining about how latkes and challah are not the most amazing of foods. Yet these foods are purposely and deliberately baked year after year. Haska, another bit of culture brought to America in contrast, is all but forgotten. Perhaps there is something to this deliberate eating?
My take away from my first Hanukkah, was a renewed sense in purpose in deciding what and how I eat. Sometimes we feel powerless to effect the events happening around us. However, we can effect and deliberately choose what we eat. I know the polar ice caps are melting, and the rainforest is disappearing at an alarming rate. I can’t stop that now, but I can purchase sustainable food, and cook it with love. I can also write about it. Just like cooking challah and latkes helps to preserve a culture and a people, maybe our combined sustainable cooking can create a culture of earthly compassion…. and help save the world.
Oh, yes… And we can all cook a little more haska too.
This Week in Updates: Jesse sees Santa and Shannon bakes
So a weird grocery shopping week this week, since I fly home on the 22nd. I am trying to have no leftovers. I also tried to skimp a lot, because Reese and Sally wanted to head up to the mountain and go skiing. I’m out of money for the month, but by skimping on groceries, I was able to get us a nice dinner of pizza and popcorn to eat while watching the fifth element. Funny story. While I was thinking about Hanukkah, Jesse was in North Pole Alaska meeting Santa.
Shannon also outdid herself this bake sale, with gorgeous vanilla cognac cupcakes, gingerbread, and salted caramel rice crispy treats.
The Recipe: Chocolate Chip Cranberry Haska
Haska is a lightly sweet, morning Christmas bread. It is almost like a glazed doughnut, except prettier. Traditionally it is made with raisins, but isn’t everything better with chocolate? Cake yeast isn’t easy to find anymore, so you can substitute a half packet of normal yeast that you find in the store according to google. I ended up using all of mine, though, so I feel like if you are in doubt, more yeast!
A word to the wise, the chocolate chips will melt if you put them in the warm dough too early. Also, if your house is cold (like mine) keep the bread warm on top the oven. If need be, restart the yeast by activating a new packet with a tablespoon warm water and sugar, then kneading into the dough. I added about half a bag of dark chocolate chips. And as you can tell, they melted. Oh well. That’s how you learn!
Another note, haska makes THE BEST FRENCH TOAST EVER.