Classes help Oklahoma families share season’s sights, scents


Growing up in Israel, Orit Rabkin savored the sufganiot she ate during Hanukkah because they were only available around the Jewish holiday.

This week, the Norman resident watched her 4-year-old daughter, Danielle Katz, make the jelly doughnuts at Chabad Jewish Center for Life and Learning, 3000 W Hefner Road.

"I was amazed when I came to America in the 1980s and found out we could get doughnuts anytime we wanted,” she said, smiling. "It never occurred to me that you could have doughnuts at any other time than Hanukkah.”

Rabkin joined several other mothers who brought their children to Chabad’s Kosher Culinary Club gathering for Hanukkah. The club, started by Nechoma Goldman, is just one of the ways metro-area Jewish families are passing the traditions of their faith on to the next generation.
Several Jewish parents and grandparents said they make special efforts to celebrate Hanukkah because their children are often surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Christian holiday of Christmas.

"You don’t feel like you have to compete because we have so much of our own tradition,” said Sarah Harel of Edmond.

Goldman shared similar sentiments.

"Hanukkah came about way before Christmas, so it’s not a compensation. It’s just that it falls around the same time (as Christmas),” she said.

The eight-day holiday of Hanukkah began at sunset Friday. It commemorates the victory of a band of Jews, the Maccabees, against Greek-Syrian occupiers in 165 B.C. and the rededication of the Jewish Temple.

Many of the traditions of the holiday focus on the miracle of the oil. When the Maccabees reclaimed the temple from their oppressors, they wanted to light the eternal light, known as the N’er Tamid, which is in every Jewish house of worship. According to tradition, once lit, the oil lamp should never be extinguished, but the Maccabees had only a tiny amount of oil, enough for one day. During Hanukkah, people celebrate the miracle that the lamp stayed lit for eight days with only the small amount of oil that remained.

Goldman said Jewish families eat food fried in oil during Hanukkah because of the miracle of the oil. She said lots of potato latkes are consumed as well as the doughnuts called sufganiot.
About 15 children gathered around Goldman on Sunday, peering at doughnuts frying in a pot. As the doughnuts cooked, the children made clay dreidels — small spinning tops — and played a traditional dreidel game. Later they lathered their fried sweet treats with powdered sugar, chocolate, colored sprinkles or baked coconut.

"When a child learns something when they are young, they comprehend it, and it will stick with them,” Goldman said.

Rabkin said she wants her daughter to know all about Hanukkah.

She said her daughter wanted to know whether she would be getting a Christmas gift since Santa Claus had come to her day care center and proclaimed that he was bringing gifts to all the children. Rabkin said she told the little girl that Santa had brought the gift, but she would get it during Hanukkah. Gifts are traditionally exchanged on each night of the holiday.

"My parents never had to deal with this. I grew up in Israel, where about 80 percent of the people are Jewish,” she said. "I don’t want her to ignore Christmas or be disrespectful, and I want her to know and love her Hanukkah traditions. It’s all about balance.”

Meanwhile, Gerry Cole of Edmond helped her grandson Noah, 3, decorate his treat at the Jewish center.

"I brought him because this is a tradition for Hanukkah, and it’s very important to carry on the traditions,” Cole said.

Goldman agreed.

"When they know their own traditions, they’re comfortable with that and who they are, and they want to pass it on,” she said.

Fostering respect, education
Goldman said Jewish parents often ask her what they should do when their children want to put up Christmas lights or partake in other Christmas traditions. She said she tells them to teach their children about the fun traditions of Hanukkah.
Sarah Harel does just that.

She said she gave a short presentation about Hanukkah to her son Hayden’s elementary school class last year. She said Hayden, 7, asked her to speak to his class this year, as well.

Harel said she is leader of the Emanuel Synagogue and Temple B’nai Israel combined youth group, which is preparing a mitten menorah. Young people have been asked to bring donations of mittens and other winter clothing to hang on a 6-foot-tall menorah made out of plastic pipes.

At home, the Harel family recently made blue and white paper (the colors of the state of Israel’s flag) chains to hang up, and plan to have theme nights each night of Hanukkah.
"Each night is important because it’s a time to reconnect with the family,” Harel said.

Joan Kornblit of Edmond founded the Respect Diversity Foundation with her husband, Michael.
Kornblit, who is Jewish, serves as director of the foundation’s early childhood diversity art program. She said children seem to respond well to her stories of groups of different cultures learning to join together.

"During the holiday season, as children from different cultures learn about each other’s traditions, they become more understanding,” Kornblit said. "Understanding encourages cooperation and friendship.”