What’s More Jewish Than Food?

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By Sarah Ruderman Wilensky

Ruderman family

Sarah with her family.

My daughter was born the day before Thanksgiving in 2010, so I spent my favorite day of the year in the hospital eating Jell-O and chicken broth and nursing a tiny newborn while our similarly tiny hospital room was crowded with friends and family on their way to and from Thanksgiving feasts. By the time we got home the next week, Thanksgiving was in the rear-view and Hanukkah was already upon us. Luckily for me, my mom was staying with us to help, and she recreated my favorite meal, which turned into an amalgam of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, with turkey, stuffing and latkes being eaten by the glow of our menorah, with my daughter, Emmy, gripping a dreidel, and our cat, Brisket, welcoming any scraps that came her way.

Fast-forward to this year, and once again Thanksgiving and Hanukkah are colliding for the first and last Thanksgivukkah in our lifetimes. As we gear up for the season of miracles and thanks, I’ve been thinking about how incredible it is that these two celebrations are overlapping, and what an amazing opportunity it is for our families to capitalize on the themes of these holidays and create great holiday activities for our children.

Cooking and eating together with our families is really at the heart of Jewish practice. I mean, what’s more Jewish than food? Coming together in the kitchen and around the table are some of the best ways to build lasting memories, create family traditions and continue the centuries-old rituals of the Jewish people.

Here are some ways to have a happy Thanksgivukkah with your young children:

  • Create a menorah out of mini cupcakes. My daughter loves to decorate cupcakes, and I’m sure your children will too. Your little ones can help stir together the ingredients, grease the pan and pour the batter into the cups. After they are done baking, you can use brown, orange and yellow frosting to decorate them. Once complete, set up the cupcakes like a menorah and stick the candles right into the cupcakes. What a great dessert for your holiday celebration, and an instant centerpiece!
  • I’ve always loved making gingerbread houses, and I love Jewish cooking legend Joan Nathan’s idea of adapting this into gingerbread dreidels, an activity featured in her wonderful book “The Children’s Jewish Holiday Kitchen”). This is a fun activity for kids of all ages, plus it will occupy your guests while you’re waiting for your turkey to finish cooking. (You can even make it a competition and award gelt for the best creation.) I like this recipe for the gingerbread and icing. Once you’ve made the dough, follow these instructions: Roll out the first disk of dough and cut it into four equal rectangles, 4.5 inches by 6.5 inches, and one rectangle 1 inch by 5 inches. Roll out the second disk of dough and cut it into four equal triangles of 4.5 inches on each side, and one square, 4.5 inches by 4.5 inches, with a small hole in the middle. Bake as directed. Prepare the icing and reserve about 1/3. Carefully “glue” together the dreidel with the icing; first the sides, then the bottom and then the top, using the reserved icing to decorate the dreidel with the letters nun, gimel, hay and shin. Affix a candy cane or other candy on top. (This dough is also great for cookie-cutter cookies of all shapes.)
  • Make a change from regular latkes to sweet potato latkes this year and pair them with a cranberry dipping sauce. Kids can help grate potatoes, but you should have them wear mittens or gloves to protect their fingers during this activity. Homemade applesauce is also super easy to make (I like this recipe), and kids love mashing up pretty much anything. Even the youngest child will love smelling the cinnamon and making a mess under the guise of “helping”! Homemade cranberry sauce is simple as well, and the kids can mix and match these two sauces to get the perfect combination of sweet and tart. If you want to skip the mix-and-match cranberry sauce/applesauce experience, here’s a recipe for cranberry applesauce.

So this year, as the days get shorter and darker, remember that we have an incredible opportunity to bring light and warmth into our lives by lighting the candles and turning on our ovens to cook together. We always end up in the kitchen, so this year, why not start there?

Sarah Ruderman Wilensky is an experienced Jewish educator and founder of JewFood. She specializes in teaching about Jewish identity, holidays and culture through food, and has worked with every age group, from toddlers and preschoolers to elementary-school students, teens, adults and families. Sarah is a Jewish educator at the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston and runs the families with young children program at Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley. She lives in Newton with her husband, two young children and cat, Brisket.

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