A Chanukah Greeting from Alan Morinis, Founder
I’ve got the potatoes … the onions … the oil …
And I’m ready too. It’s Chanukah, and time for latkes.
For several years now, when my grandchildren visit, I don this special apron and make them breakfast every day of their visits.
Can you make out what it says?
“You’ll never guess what’s cooking – at Zaida’s Café.”
When the kids come to the table, before they are served any food, they have to sing a little song that goes like this:
“A one, a two, a-you know what to do.
Zaida’s Café is open!”
Then they extend their arms upward to the sky, wide open.
And only then is the food served.
When they are done eating, they don’t get to leave the table until they have recited a second chant, that goes:
“A three, a four, I can’t eat anymore.
Zaida’s Café is closed!”
And with Chanukah approaching, you can be sure that latkes will be on the menu at Zaida’s Café!
Sometimes I don’t make just potato latkes. I vary the ingredients, adding zucchini or leeks, and that’s fine, as long as they're fried, because it is the oil that connects our feast of latkes to the history of Chanukah.
As every child knows, the story of Chanukah tells us that when the Greeks entered the Temple, they contaminated all the flasks of oil they discovered that were in the Sanctuary. As a result, when the Jewish people rose up and defeated them, they found only one flask of oil that had the intact seal of the Kohen Gadol (“High Priest”), ensuring that it had remained pure.
That one flask contained only enough oil to kindle the Menorah for one day, but a miracle happened, and the lights burned for 8 days.
As it says on the dreidel: Nes gadol haya sham – “A great miracle happened there” (or, in Israel, “here”!).
You can be sure that when that one jug of kosher oil was found, some very practical person will have said, “Let’s light a little oil tonight and save the rest for the next days, until we can gather more.”
But that’s not what happened. Another voice said, “Let’s light it all today. We can trust that God will take care of tomorrow.”
And that’s what happened.
From a Mussar perspective, Chanukah is the festival of trust, or in Hebrew, bitachon. It surely took a huge amount of trust for the small band of Jews to take on the vastly superior Greek army. But if our observance of Chanukah focused on that alone, it would be just marking someone else’s soul-trait of trust.
Instead, the tradition calls for each person in the house to light a candle of their own, which I hear as a call to each of us to pay attention to the importance of bitachon – not just as a fact of history but as a personal experience of a connection to that quality of trust.
It’s the same thing when my grandkids sit down to Zaida’s Café. They trust that when they sing “A one, a two, a-you know what to do. Zaida’s Café is open!” food will appear. And it does!!
Whether in a war of national liberation or in sitting down to breakfast, trust is an essential ingredient to cultivate in our lives. And most kids are good role models and teachers of trust, because they don’t have the capacity to earn money, buy or grow food, cook, and take care of their own needs. They are dependent. A child who wakes up hungry in a well-provisioned house trusts that there will be a breakfast waiting for them, because they know they need to be taken care of.
And the same is true of the Maccabees, who faced seemingly impossible odds in their war and yet still began their fight …
And this is true for all of us. Only we can take the steps needed to create our lives, and we are empowered to step forward in the present and into the future – not because we have certainty that we are right or will succeed, but because we trust God.
So, as you light a Chanukah candle or savour a latke, you are being invited to take a deep dive into an experience of trusting God, and to implant that trait in your heart, so you can venture forth in your own life, to do what you need to do, brave as a Maccabee.