“We’re making America ‘grate’ again,” said Alan Kraus, longtime “latke-teer” for the Jewish Congregation of New Paltz’s annual Hanukkah celebration held last Sunday. Latkes made from grated potatoes, eggs, garlic powder and matzo meal are a highlight of the event, with hundreds of the tasty potato pancakes coming out of the kosher kitchen at the congregation’s community center to be devoured quickly, accompanied by a dollop of applesauce or sour cream. The traditional holiday treat is offered in addition to a number of dishes and desserts brought in by congregation members to share potluck-style.
The event had the feeling of a family dinner — albeit a very large family — warm and festive and welcoming. Honors as patriarch of this family would have to go to Rabbi Bill Strongin, whose booming voice and sense of humor kept the celebration rolling.
The party was held almost a week early, with the first day of Hanukkah this year falling on December 24. Families who had brought in their menorahs from home to light the candles together were reminded that this would be a symbolic lighting. Rabbi Bill presided over the ceremony, explaining for anybody who needed clarification the proper procedure.
“It’s not possible for a Rabbi to do anything without teaching something,” he noted, adding that the menorah has been the symbol of the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years and is the emblem of the modern state of Israel, likening the symbolism to that of the bald eagle to an American.
The shamash (“helper” or “servant”) candle is lit first, followed by the blessings. The shamash is then used on each successive night of Hanukkah to light the remaining eight candles. Since Hebrew is read right to left, Strongin explained, the candles are lit right to left, as well. But a more complicated explanation of the meaning of menorahs was left for another time, as the enticing prospect of sharing the potluck and all those latkes awaited.
The members of Kehillat Ahavat Achim who made the crispy potato treats stood out at the party in their matching t-shirts, which depict a flaming frying pan on the back of the shirt accompanied by the legend, “Frying by the heat of our pans.” This year the latke-teers included Alan Kraus, Jeff Goldman, Artie Raphael, David Cohen, Spencer Rohrlick, Gayle Shankman, Ron Simon and Seth McKee, who spent the afternoon frying up the latkes, with not a one left over.
A convivial dining together was followed by a group sing-along led by the Chai Notes. A Judaica shop was open in the lobby with many styles of menorah available and options for gift-giving, and kids gathered together in one end of the room to play non-traditional and traditional games, including dreidel, organized by a committee of the congregation’s Hebrew School. There were tables to make crafts, and one young woman even offered fellow party-goers “tattoos” drawn carefully on the backs of hands.
The Jewish Congregation of New Paltz was founded in 1964, with worship open to all who wish to attend. Regular services are held on Friday evenings at 6 p.m. at the shul at 8 Church Street.