By Laura Seymour
Chanukah is filled with customs. What’s interesting to note is that customs are different around the world. For example, while our custom in the United States is to eat latkes to symbolize the miracle of the oil, Israeli Jews add sufganiyot, or fried jelly donuts, to the menu as well.
This year, why not add some new customs to your family celebration? One that I particularly like is Chag haBanot, or Festival of the Daughters. The idea behind this particular festival is that on Rosh Chodesh Tevet (which falls during the eight days of Chanukah), women don’t work.
Tami Lehman Wilzig, author of the book “Chanukah Around the World” explains this custom beautifully and also provides a recipe to try. Feel free to order the book and add this — and other — customs to your Chanukah celebrations this year!
The cousins had already lit the candles for the seventh night of Chanukah, and Grand-mere explained that this night is for girls only, the way it was in Nabeul, Tunisia.
“Chanukah is the only holiday that starts in one Hebrew month, Kislev, and ends in another, Tevet,” she said. “When I grew up, the Rosh Chodesh that fell during Chanukah was a holiday within a holiday. It was called Chag haBanot, Festival of the Daughters. While the candles burned, we relaxed. No one went into the kitchen. The next day we had a feast for women and girls only. We did serve the men a snack after candle lighting — an artichoke, olive spread or a hard-boiled egg. But the really delicious food was saved for the women’s feast, where young and old gathered to honor Judith, the Chanukah heroine.”
She then went on to tell us the story of Judith. Judith, a widow, living in Assyria, gained the trust of an enemy general, fed him salty cheese that made him thirsty, then gave him wine to drink. As he lay in a drunken stupor, she cut off his head and returned, triumphant, to the Jewish people. Grand-mere said legend has it that the Maccabees were inspired by Judith’s bravery. Grand-mere Added that, on the seventh day of Chanukah we honor only our heroines: Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Miriam, Judith, Hannah and more.
“That reminds me of another thing we did,” she added. “We settled all fights and apologized to one another. And at the end of the meal we ate special Debla cookies.”
And here is the recipe for Debla’s Cookies. They are, of course, fried in oil, as befitting a Chanukah celebration.
- 2 eggs
- 1¼ cup of flour
- Pinch of salt
- Oil for frying
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
In a bowl, beat the eggs, add flour and salt. Knead the mixture into dough, turn out on a flat surface. Roll the dough thin and cut into 1-inch strips. Using a fork, twist each strip into a circle. Heat the oil and drop each circle into the hot oil (fry one at a time). Once the circle has opened and puffed up like a rose, remove and drain on a paper towel.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine topping ingredients over medium heat, cook until thickened. Drizzle over the cookies.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.