TweetShabbat: Why I am cooking Ghanaian donuts with mango jam this Hanukkah
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In these dark times, we all need the light of the Chanukah candles. Lighting the menorah takes on special meaning this year as we are surrounded by grief and hardship instead of family and friends. Sitting around our table, connecting with our history and our ancestors fills me with strength and hope. Passing on our traditions to my daughter gives me purpose and the type of fulfillment that can only come from being part of something bigger than yourself. The story of Chanukah reinforces how important it is for us to hold on to who we are and pass our histories down to our children.
My family has more than one culture to preserve and pass down. We are Jewish, and two of the three of us are also Ghanaian and members of the Fanti tribe. As a family that is mixed race, with a patriarch who is a Jew by choice, some see us as the face of assimilation, as the watering down of two distinct ancient heritages worthy of preservation. Instead, we are a woven tapestry, like kente cloth, passing on a uniquely American version of love and culture. Our home is made up of two Diasporas, Jewish and African, and we embrace and celebrate it all. Like two threads woven into a beautiful textile, it makes us stronger to be together.
One of our saddest moments this year was postponing a long-planned trip to Ghana with my husband’s family. We had dreamed of bringing my four-year-old since she was born. We wanted her to have the opportunity to get to know that part of herself and where she comes from, and build her own happy memories there.
I still hope to have family memories there one day. I picture us eating mangoes on the beach in Cape Coast, strolling the Centre for National Culture in Accra, marveling at the hundreds of butterflies atop the canopies in Kakum National Park. Like so many dreams in 2020, this one has been packed away with our passports, waiting for better days.
In bad times, rooting yourself in who you are can help you survive. We lean into the rituals and stories of our ancestors to find strength and instruction. We gravitate towards foods that bring a sense of closeness to those we love and cannot be near. I reach for matzo ball soup, latkes, a brisket, my husband reaches for jollof rice, waakye, fried fish. We strive to integrate our traditions and heritages to provide a rock-solid foundation for our child in good times and bad. Over the past decade this foundation of who we are, Jewish, Ghanaian, American, has provided a bulwark against despair and a path forward. We are so blessed to have such strong ancestors to lean on.
Channukah is a celebration of who we are and the triumph over forced assimilation. As we celebrate the miracle that occurred when the Maccabees rededicated the temple, we rededicate ourselves to preserving the culture and heritage that has enriched our lives, so it is there for generations to come, both in good times and bad. While we didn’t get to go to Ghana this year, we can still cook Ghanaian food, listen to Ghanaian music, read Ghanaian books, and dress our daughter in beautiful Ghanaian clothes. Whenever I can, I try to integrate our whole family’s heritage into our holidays, so we are celebrating all of who we are. Any moment we can celebrate the wholeness of who we are is a joyful one.
On Channukah, we fry food in oil, and luckily there are many delicious fried Ghanaian foods to choose from. I love to fry up Ghanaian donuts, called bofrot, and dip them in mango jam. One day I hope to buy them from street vendors in Accra, handing them to my family for a quick snack as we explore. This year, we are grateful to just be together, enjoying latkes and bofrot around the menorah, surrounded by light and love.
How was your week? How are you spending Shabbat? Let us know at #tweetyourshabbat! Everyone is welcome at this table! Come hungry.