Fried foods essential to Hanukkah tradition

Eight days of family time and gift-giving begins with Hanukkah Saturday, and it won’t happen without the food – much of it fried.

What better way to celebrate ancient Hebrew events than with a good old Southern tradition: fried foods.

“Judaism is a gastronomic religion,” Rabbi Avi Perets of Temple Emanu-El in Myrtle Beach said, through laughter. “American Jews traditionally eat latkes – or potato pancakes – and Israeli Jews eat jelly donuts.”

The two foods are usually consumed by both groups, however, and other meals are prepared alongside these fried delights.

But why fried foods?

“We eat fried foods in remembrance of the miracle of the oil,” Perets said. “When we eat the latkes, we’re basically reviving and bringing to life the Hanukkah stories to the children.”

The negative side effects of oil-soaked foods create heated debates among doctors and health gurus, but Judaism celebrates the delicious, heart-stopping goodness.

“Isn’t it terrible to have fried food?” joked Rabbi Doron Aizenman of the Chabad of Myrtle Beach. “It isn’t good for us anymore, but it is our tradition to have foods fried in oil for Hanukkah.”

Though greasy, fattening and tasty on food, oil is an essential element in our bodies. Hanukkah recognizes this unique ingredient and celebrates oil’s necessity.

“Oil is very special,” Aizenman said. “Oil floats on top of all other liquids; it doesn’t really get mixed into other liquids. Oil stays pure.

“All the oils in our body are making sure our bones function, our joints work; our body needs it, technology needs it, our world needs it. It is essential.”

The Grand Strand’s Jewish community, according to Perets, is spread out between five local synagogues. Unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Hanukah isn’t a major Jewish holiday, Perets said. It’s not any less meaningful, however, because of the time spent with family, he said.