Latino Jews Give Hanukkah a Special Flavor

BY: 
Susanne Ramírez de Arellano
 | December 14, 2022

Credit: Nuestro Stories

Hanukkah – the Jewish Festival of Lights – is an eight-day celebration that falls yearly on the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev, usually in November or December. It commemorates the meaning of rededication and it’s celebrated with the lighting of the menorah and traditional foods, games, and gifts. 

Hanukkah, or Chanukah, commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where Jews had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. The holiday marks the miracle of the menorah.   

After the Maccabeans won, there was only enough oil to burn the Temple menorah for one day. Instead, the oil burned for eight days. This is the miracle of the menorah. 

During Hanukkah, as the sun sets each night, one branch of the menorah is lit by the shamash, the ninth and tallest branch of the menorah. Traditionally, candles are lit from right to left, although there is no one correct order in which to place and light the candles.

The message of Hanukkah is the eternal power of light over darkness, the triumph of good over evil. 

Families get together and eat amazing fried food like latkes, sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), apple fritters, or kugel. The food during this holiday is fried for a reason – as a symbol of the miracle oil. As each candle is lit, presents are given during the eight nights. 

According to our national survey, 1 in 10 Americans celebrates Chanukah. The Jewish population in the United States is 6.7 million and it is estimated that 200,100 are Latino Jews.

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How Latino Jews celebrate Hanukkah

So, how do Latino Jews celebrate Hanukkah? How do they celebrate being Jewish but of multiple Hispanic and Latino identities? 

It is done with a special flavor – a blend of traditional Jewish customs and Latin American ones. Latino Jews, including those born in the U.S., have deep ties strong to countries in Latin America that welcomed their families in two waves, after the First and Second World Wars. 

A fusion of tacos with brisket, latke fillings of potato jalapeño, Mexican cheese doused with salsa, cheesy arepas, and warm churros.

Florida has one of the largest Latino Jewish populations in the US. They are mostly of Cuban descent, but also Mexican, Venezuelan, and Argentinian. Hanukkah is celebrated with a good cup of café cubano. 

In New York City, you can enjoy Latino-infused Hanukkah sweets too. Like the sweet, syrup-drenched Sephardic fritters called bimuelos (a Ladino derivation of the Spanish buneolos), Mexican-themed sufganiyots, or the traditional rugelach flavored with pineapple and coconut jam.

In Los Angeles, the family might enjoy a couple of latke tacos filled with deep-fried potato, onion, and cilantro. Or just taking one bite into a crispy potato jalapeño latke topped with apple tomatillo salsa would start the Latino Hanukkah celebration – a perfect cross-cultural collaboration. 

To all, Chag sameach! ¡Feliz Hanukkah! 

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