Who wields the pans on Hanukkah?
Ever since that one little jug found in the corner of the First Temple burned for eight days instead of one, olive oil has been political.
The one day supply of olive oil lasted for eight days, so the eternal flame did not go out while the temple was re-dedicated. Thus, Judaism’s victory against Hellenism was ratified by the holy light, and we now remember the miracle by serving fried food for eight days.
What does this have to do with women? I asked my rabbi, Ari Cartun, from Congregation Etz Chayim in Palo Alto, CA. He recalled two stories involving women that contributed to the victory that led to the recapture of the Temple. In Maccabees II, there was Hannah and her seven sons, who all chose to die rather than convert by eating of a forbidden animal, and made stirring speeches beforehand. Then, in the Apocrypha, which are writings about Jewish history contained in the Christian Bible, there is the book of Judith, a beautiful wealthy, widow, who rescued her town by beguiling and beheading the Assyrian commander Holofernes, and exhorting the Jews to rise up and attack.
“As far as I know, women created the traditional foods used to commemorate the holiday,” Rabbi Cartun said. This might explain why, in two branches of my extended family, Hanukah is the only time of the year that men cook. Rabbi Cartun takes up the spatula on Hanukah, to spare his wife the smell of burning oil, and the sting of the flying flecks of fat.
On the East Coast, my super competent cousin whom I will call Hannah (not Rifky the Balaboste from Long Island — I have lots and lots of cousins) and her husband hold a yearly Latke Fiesta. Hannah’s husband, who does not touch a pan all year, does all the frying. On the West Coast, my husband’s cousin, “Judith,” makes her husband do all the latke frying also -- in the garage. He uses a phalanx of electric frying pans on card tables to do the cooking in there, letting the cars sit outside. “All that frying smells up the house,” said “Judith.” “I don’t always send him to the garage. Some years, I let him cook in the backyard.”
Most women I know, however, do all the cooking on the holiday. Some even revel in it, like my friend Carol Saal. “I do the latke frying, in the kitchen, with lots of newly pressed oil (November is harvest and pressing time),” she said. “Growing our own olives and making olive oil means having the absolute luxury of cooking almost everything with olive oil - and lots of it!”
I get three or four pans going at once. Then it becomes a dance of the senses, a ballet of batter and oil. Last year, it became a Tom Sawyer meets Hanukkah deal, as my friends wanted to take a turn, and I sat and ate while they cooked.
So, who deals with the pans in your house? Is it a guy deal or a girl activity? Do you compete? Alternate? Banish the frying pans to the backyard?
Preeva Tramiel is a freelance writer in Palo Alto, California. She blogs at Melon Memories.