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The Marenda de Hanukkah

Adi Nemia-Cohen, Edna Assis |05/12/2021|175
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There is no holiday without a meal, but sages throughout the ages have questioned and discussed whether it is obligatory or just permissible for Hannukah (as on Passover or Rosh Hashanah). Whether permitted or obligatory, in the various Diasporas, special dishes for Hanukkah meals were hardly the norm and the Hanukkah holiday was almost lacking in food traditions compared to other holidays.

Over time, a number of dishes developed that we still eat during the holidays and they are the sufganiyot (doughnuts) , the latkes (potato pancakes) and various traditions of cheese dishes. The sugfaniyot and latkes were associated with the days of Hanukkah because of the miracle of the jug of oil and the result is the eating of fatty and high calorie foods. Ashkenazi Jews are well acquainted with the sufganiya and some claim that it originated with the German "Berliner" cake "Berliner". Jews from Turkey used to eat lokama or lokmads, if they lived near Greece. Moroccan and North African Jews ate spinj while Yemenite Jews ate the zaalbia. Common to all these foods is that they made from a doughy mixture, fried in deep oil and eaten hot and sweet.

Over the last century, all of these foods were eaten in Jerusalem, just like all the other cities in Israel. New food traditions developed along with Hanukkah parties, banquets and torchlight processions as part of shaping a Jewish national culture in the State of Israel. But one tradition that was almost forgotten was that of the Sephardic community in Jerusalem, the one known as the "Marenda de Hanukkah." Marenda in Ladino (Jewish Spanish) means a celebration, and there are many memoirs written about it.

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Yaakov Yehoshua, the Jerusalem writer from the Spanish-speaking Ladino community, wrote:

"Sometimes the Marenda was held in the courtyard of the Talmud Torah. Often the “Shabab” (wild teenagers) took part in enthusiastic dances to entertain the children. On their heads they carried large copper trays, full of "Abbas e Aruz", beans and rice, the national dish that we loved so much as children, and even today our soul longs for it. Sometimes we prepared the rice and beans all day and they tasted like Shabbat stew (hamin). A large pot was placed on a small fire all night. The barriers seemed to fall between the "wise" students who studied all day and the others on this day. ... Everyone got a "pitika" (small slice of tasty bread), a portion of beans and rice and, for dessert, "lekah" - an Ashkenzai cake that was found at every party and celebration of the members of the Sephardic community ... "(Yaakov Yehoshua, Childhood in Old Jerusalem, (Hebrew) Part I, pp. 46-47

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Outside view of the 4 Sephardic synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem. Credit MOSHE MILNER

Yaakov Elazar, a member of the Sephardic community who lived in the Jewish Quarter, also wrote about the Hanukkah celebration:

"And another beautiful custom in Jerusalem was that they used to gather children and teenagers on the eighth day of Hanukkah - the day of the dedication of the altar - and distribute pita with a plate of rice and beans. The food was collected by the students of the Tashbar School and their teachers who went from house to house collecting food, and in return for each food item donated, they would sing Ladino blessings for the children of the house. It was a day that was all good, a day of equality among all the children of the Old City. " (Wasertil, Asher (Ed.), Yalkut Minhagim, Jerusalem, 1996 p. 324 (Hebrew))

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The Ladino-speaking Spanish Jews also had a special suganiya for Hanukkah:

Of all the delicious Hanukkah dishes, we loved the "Burmillos", pancakes made from dough, as opposed to "latkes"" made from potatoes. The dough is mixed with yeast to rise, prepared during the day. It is placed in a wide copper pot and covered with cloth. The dough rests all night. In the early morning our mothers stood and made pancakes, round and flat pancakes, fried them in oil and sprinkled them with fine sugar. The pancakes were eaten while they were hot. In their honor we would sing a Ladino ditty sung according to the tunes of the reading of the Torah: "[and let there be an end to pancakes with honey, Pharaoh prepared then and Joseph ate]. Indeed, sometimes we ate them dipped in honey. Some mothers exchanged their pancakes for those of their neighbors... in order to "know how the neighbors’ pancakes turned out". (Yaakov Yehoshua, Childhood in Old Jerusalem Part I, pp. 46-47)

And Yaakov Elazar explains how to make this pancake, and how to reduce its oiliness:

"Most of the pancakes are made from a thin dough that is poured with a spoon into a pan full of boiling oil. Those who want the pancake to be less greasy, mix several eggs in the dough. Sephardic pancakes had many shapes, and were different from the round ones. As for sweetening, they were sweet because of the fine sugar on top. The pancakes that were round were mixed with sugar water or grape syrup." " (Wasertil, Asher (Ed.), Yalkut Minhagim, Jerusalem, 1996 p. 323 (Hebrew))

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Years later, in 1989, after the unification of Jerusalem, an attempt was made to restore the tradition of the members of the Spanish community. In the Spanish newspaper "B'Maracha" Yaakov Elazar wrote:

For hundreds of years, the Sephardic rabbis in Jerusalem used to gather students in the city in the four synagogues of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and on the eighth day of Hanukkah, they lit the candles with joy and happiness, singing and chanting. The rabbis and elders explained the value of the miracle of Hanukkah in Jewish law, in tradition, in legends and in life, and while singing in public, all the students were given pita and a portion of rice with beans in a festive ceremony called in Ladino, "Marenda", which means a celebration that includes honor. (Elazar Y. in B'Maracha, no. 337, 1989 p. 22)

The children of the Jewish Quarter would go out to the streets and alleys of the quarter as early as the beginning of the Jewish month of Kislev and sing and dance. They had a special song for this event that they would sing in Ladino. On the shoulders of the children were cloth bags and in their hands oil cans meant to collect the groceries that the women of the neighborhood were handing out to the children who were knocking on the doors of the residents' houses. They would get rice, flour, oil, onions, beans and more.

This year, the Sephardic Committee of the Eastern Committees in Jerusalem, in collaboration with the Torah Culture Department of the Jerusalem Municipality and the Yad LaRishonim Movement, decided to hold the "Meranda" ceremony by lighting Hanukkah candles on the eigth day of Chanukah - "the Inauguration of the Altar" - at Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai Synagogue ".

Despite the attempt to restore its former glory, the 'Marenda de Hanukkah' is no longer celebrated in Jerusalem. Old food customs are replaced by new ones, some traditions are preserved and some are pleasant to remember. But if this year your soul desires to taste a little of the taste of the Miranda de Hanukkah, you can make the abas con orez (beans with rice) at home yourself.

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