Risa Nye, perhaps best known to Berkeleyside Nosh readers as Ms Barstool, doesn’t spend all her time sipping cocktails in the wee hours. She also, like the rest of us, goes grocery shopping. And there’s one aspect of the preparation undertaken by some local stores towards Hanukkah that really, really gets her goat. Read on.
A letter to the manager of my local grocery store:
Dear person in charge of the all-purpose Jewish food display I saw in your store on Nov. 19, just over a week before Hanukkah starts:
Depending on what part of the world you come from, there are a variety of traditional foods associated with Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. The story of this holiday includes the miracle of a small amount of oil that kept a menorah burning for eight nights. (There is much more to this story, but I’m just summing up the part that has to do with latkes and oil.)
One of the traditional foods people prepare at Hanukkah is the latke, or potato pancake. Personally, I detest the way my house smells after latkes are made. The odor of fried onion and potato hangs around for almost the full eight days. Most years, I don’t make them — so family members have figured out ways to bake them or bring them all ready to heat up from Trader Joe’s. That’s fine with me. This holiday is not about how I feel regarding fried potato pancakes; it’s about the miracle in the Temple involving one night’s worth of oil that lasted for eight days.
At my house, if we remember in time, we get out the menorah and start lighting candles on the first night of Hanukkah. The cheapo candles drip like a son of a bitch and you can’t ever get red wax off a white tablecloth. Believe me, I’ve tried. Also the cheap candles drip down the menorah and you end up having to chip it off with a knife when it’s time to put the menorah back in the box with the Christmas ornaments. Again, my personal story. Others may have a different experience.
Now, on to the shelves I saw today.
Starting at the top, you have bags of Hanukkah gelt. Good for you. These chocolate coins are like poker chips you can use when you play gambling games with your dreidel. Fun to peel off those gold wrappers, but not very good chocolate inside usually. I often wonder if that’s on purpose.
I’m not sure what’s in the “Chanukah Surprise” boxes, but they do appear to be dreidel-shaped. If the rules of the game are printed on them, that would be helpful. It’s kind of complicated.
Next up we have boxes of Chanukah candles.So far so good, eh? I can’t tell if they’re the anemic-looking ones or the ones that come in garish colors. They all melt too fast and are messy, regardless. And we need a lot of them, since we start with two and light one more each night. I’m not doing the math, but having plenty of candles is essential. I hope you don’t run out.
But that next shelf? What’s with the tea biscuits? A random choice? One of these things is not like the others.
Then we have boxes of Striet’s matzos (the onion and poppy variety, and do you know why they’re called “Moonstrips”? ). Perhaps you are not aware that matzos are associated with a DIFFERENT Jewish holiday — Passover — that occurs in the spring.
Most people I know are happy to have a whole year between Passovers, when leavened products are supposed to be avoided in favor of unleavened, which generally means eating more matzo than is actually good for you. What it does to your guts. . . well, we don’t need to go there.
And next door to the matzo we find the Manischewitz potato pancake mix. I didn’t check the “best use by” date on these. Maybe next time. I’ll pass for now.
Alongside the boxes of potato pancake mix are bags of Manischewitz skinny egg noodles, the kind you might put in your chicken soup, along with some matzo balls. (I’m surprised the Streitz’s matzo meal isn’t on these shelves. You can make perfectly good matzo balls just following the recipe on the box, for crying out loud.)
But you were sort of on the right track for Hanukkah, with the potato pancake mix anyway, until we get to the bottom shelf, which is full of (I wish it weren’t so) boxes of Lipton (Lipton!) matzo ball and soup mix and some just plain matzo ball mix. At least they’re kosher. Kosher for Passover, which is, as I pointed out above, a different holiday with different traditional foods. Kosher for Passover is good — for Passover. Not really a thing that matters for Hanukkah. Basically, you lumped Passover, Hanukkah and “generic Jewish stuff” all together with some outlier tea biscuits.
The grape juice on the bottom shelf is probably a stand-in for Manischewitz Concord grape wine that is served in some households on PASSOVER. You can drink whatever fine wine you want at Hannukah — including something that goes with fried potato latkes, if such a thing exists. Again, not your problem — or mine.
In conclusion, I’m hoping to draw your attention to this lumping together of stuff that goes along with one Jewish holiday or another without paying attention to what is traditional for either one. How hard would it be to ask someone, “So, what goes with Hanukkah anyway?”– and just put out the appropriate things at the right time of year? And Lipton over Streit’s? A shonda!
Please, just put the matzo in the back and wait until spring. It won’t get stale, trust me.
Risa Nye, aka Ms. Barstool, is a freelance writer based in Oakland. This post was originally published on Nye’s blog, Zero to Sixty and Beyond.