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Turning the Tables: The Miracle of Latkes

As we fire up our Hanukkiot, our thoughts turn to miracles and their place in our lives. After all, the story of Hanukkah includes the miracle of the Maccabees’ victory *and( the oil, which lasted eight days. With those miraculous events, we come to the lesser (but no less relevant) miracle of the potato latke.

This little potato pancake has become the central food of the holiday. According to some, we eat latkes because they are fried in oil, symbolizing the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days. But what else can we learn from the little latke? Is there a way to connect it to the holiday beyond the fact that it’s fried? With these questions in mind, here are a few tips for considering the miracles at our tables:

The Miracle of Life: “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof.” (Psalm 24:1) Life itself is a miracle. This is true of everything we touch and taste. Think about it this way: Latkes exist only because those potato plants, onion bulbs and olive trees have an inner drive to flourish. Without this inner drive, plants would wither and die. Food is the miraculous product of life’s self-fulfilling fertility, a reflection of the God’s command to flourish.

The Miracle of Family: “It is not good to be alone.” (Gen. 2:18) When we think deeply about our food, we connect with those around us. Who can forget the nostalgic aroma of a good latke fry that hangs in the air for weeks and covers the walls like a shiny coat of paint? Residing in our holiday foods are the twins of memory and aspiration. Tucked in the crispy potato flakes are the memories of grandparents and other ancestors who strived for freedom, alongside the special hopes we have for our children and grandchildren. For some, having a family is a miracle. For others, keeping a family together is a miracle. For all of us, celebrating with those who love us and expect love from us is a miracle.

The Miracle of Community: “[God] provides sustenance for all, for the world is filled with God’s loving-kindness.” (Psalm 136) The pathway from farm to fork is one that takes many twists and turns. Consider the number of hands needed to bring latkes to our holiday tables: Farmers, pickers, processors, shippers, produce managers, cashiers and you. Without the legions of people devoted to our food system, we would go hungry–especially for latkes.

*The Miracle of You**: Life, family and community are all miraculous. But this holiday season, take the opportunity to become a miracle yourself. Help change the food system by supporting organizations such as Netiya, which plants gardens to donate fresh produce to food banks. Hazon, which provides a platform for the Jewish Food Movement. Work with Jewish organizations that feed the hungry at home and abroad, like Mazon and American Jewish World Service. Support small farms, CSAs and workers by buying local potatoes, fair-trade chocolate gelt and other items. These are just some of the many Jewish organizations that are changing some aspect of our global food system.

This year when we chow down on latkes, may these holiday favorites symbolize not only the story of Hanukkah, but our own miraculous actions. Happy Hanukkah.

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