A MINOR holiday for a minority's religion, Hanukkah is about drawing the line, saying you'll assimilate so much and no more. But in America, how much is so much?
In her memoir, "Miriam's Kitchen," published last year, Elizabeth Ehrlich describes how conflicted she used to feel sitting down to a holiday feast of goose prepared by her aunt who married a non-Jew. Decades of English literature had made the goose seem as Christmassy as the ham that stood next to it.
Ms. Ehrlich's book is about finding her way back to Jewish traditions she had abandoned or never known. She writes of her mother-in-law, a Holocaust survivor, recalling how her family would roast such a bird for Hanukkah.
When I finished reading Ms. Ehrlich's book shortly before Thanksgiving, I reflected on her charming account and decided to look into getting a fresh kosher goose for my family's Hanukkah celebration.
Her book brought back memories of my late, old world grandfather, the butcher, who had provided goose for special occasions when I was a child. But Grandpa lived in New York City, where such kosher delights are more plentiful.
In fact, my Baltimore butcher encouraged me to go to New York to find a fresh, kosher goose. That also was the initial recommendation of an employee of a kosher poultry company. Then, he suggested that we have our kosher butcher accompany us to a Maryland farm, where we'd have our choice of bird.
So we may just go over the river and through the woods to pick out a fat goose at a Baltimore County farm that specializes in all sorts of holiday-related fare -- but no pigs.
Pigs are a powerful symbol of the uprising that Hanukkah commemorates. The Hellenized Syrians, under the notorious despot Antiochus Epiphanes, tried to force the Jews to acculturate to the point of keeping pigs in the temple in Jerusalem.
Their attempts to suppress Judaism set off a struggle that ended with the Jewish Maccabee rebels' victory in 164 B.C. and the rededication of the temple.
When they returned to the ransacked temple, the Maccabees found a tiny bit of sacred olive oil that miraculously lasted not one, but eight days; thus, the lighting of candles over eight days.
Hanukkah, which begins at sundown on Sunday, is a home holiday with few public observances. For those observing kosher dietary guidelines that forbid the serving of meat dishes and dairy products in the same meal, there are several ways to celebrate. A dairy menu might include potato pancakes with sour cream and applesauce; a meat repast, a golden goose with potato pancakes, fruit sauce and sweet and sour cabbage.
Maybe this year we'll have our de-fatted goose, and make our traditions new again.
Martha B. Walter is a free-lance writer and homemaker.
Pub Date: 12/11/98