APPLES AND ORANGES, IT ISN’T

For the last few centuries, if there is one particular food associated with Chanukah, at least for those of us of eastern European descent, it would be the potato. Availability and cost factor aside, I truly believe, that come Chanukah, the potato is not only rich in potassium and vitamin C, but in meaning as well.

It must not go unnoticed, that in languages other than English there exists an intrinsic connection between potatoes and apples. In Hebrew, the word for apple is tapuach. In Hebrew, the word for potato is tapuach adamah or apple of the ground. The very same holds true in French (pomme vs. pomme de terre) and (old) Yiddish (eppel vs. erd epple).

The term “comfort food” dates back at least half a century. When it comes to comfort foods, the potato is way up there on the list. When it comes to comfort festivals, Chanukah is way up there on the list as well. Victory may have a thousand fathers, but Chanukah has over two thousand years in any number of countries celebrated by countless Jews. Perhaps it’s with good reason  that come the Festival of Lights, it is the potato that greets our palate and not the onion or the beet or any other vegetable.  If the tapuach adamah (Hebrew for potato) is a comfort food, then biblically speaking, it is the tapuach (Hebrew for apple) that is the consequence food. Rabbinic discussion aside, the apple a.k.a. the forbidden fruit, resulted in consequences that were far reaching (the Adam’s apple exists to this very day). If Adam and Eve hungered for that which was off limits, the Maccabees were fed up with fellow Jews hungering for that which was off limits. Adam and Eve were the evictees; the Maccabees were the evictors.

There is however more than one way to slice a potato and an apple. As much as they serve as comfort food and consequence food, the potato and apple are both foods of choice, albeit for an entirely different reason.  The potato is food of choice, because when it comes to our history, the Maccabees ought to be seen as a clan of choice. Not once, but at least three times in the Chanukah story, the Maccabees were confronted by a choice: to go to battle against a better trained, better equipped and bigger in number enemy, or not; to go about pillaging, destroying  and raping after victory was achieved, or not; to go ahead and light a paltry one-day supply of oil, or not. Because of this, the potato, the current choice vegetable of Chanukah has become the vegetable of choice. Yet, the apple represents choice as well. Eve, and subsequently Adam were also faced with a choice, when seduced by forbidden fruit, thanks to the serpent’s sales pitch:
eat or retreat. Eve and Adam made a poor choice and paid a price. The Maccabees on the other hand made an excellent choice and profited!

Have you ever wondered why pancakes are smothered in syrup, yet latkes are dipped into apple sauce? One need not be Sigmund Freud to conclude that latkes and apple sauce represent a symbiosis of human behavior, particularly when it involves Jewish heritage. Throughout history, we have, as a people, been confronted by choices. The correct choice (the potato) brings us comfort; the incorrect choice (the apple) confronts us with dire consequences. Each time our leaders or we as individuals made the wrong choice, we paid the price, often a steep price; each time our leaders or we as individuals made the right choice, we profited. Sometimes we even enjoyed a handsome profit.

Perhaps there is more than meets the eye when considering the moniker “Festival of Lights.” In addition to miracles and wondrous deeds, Chanukah sheds light on the connection between the potato and the apple, so very much the mainstay of modern Chanukah munchies. Perhaps the message is in the medium. Perhaps the message conveyed by potato latkes dipped in apple sauce is one that the Maccabees would want us to chew on.

SIT- IN

An etymologist I’m not. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the term “sit-in” dates back close to six decades. It was at a lunch counter in early 1960 at a Woolworths in Greensboro North Carolina where four African American college students remained seated despite the fact that they were refused service. Unbeknownst to those four college students, the very first sit-in involved the descendants of Abraham. It first took place thousands of years ago and continues until this very day. Unlike the sit-in of the four college students, our sit-in not in any way connected to race. Independent of the fact that it was mandated in the Torah, our sit -in seeks to address three inequalities.

The very first inequality is that of physical security. Unlike other people, neither hurricanes nor other acts of G-d serve as stark reminders for us that our houses offer absolutely nothing when it comes to physical security. For longer than we care to remember, Jewish houses have been blown down through the huffs and puffs of anti-Semitism. Stories abound of those who managed to survive Der  Fuhrer’s inferno, having the chutzpah to return to the house where they once lived. The Policja (Polish for Police) were at the scene lest the Zydzi (Jews) caused the occupants any trouble. For us, the Sukkah serves as a reminder that the sticks and stones of our houses will offer as much physical protection as the schach covering.

The second inequality is that we – and that means all of us – have yet to properly understand the divine word. “So that your generations will know that in Sukkot, I seated the Children of Israel when I brought them out of the land of Egypt,” explains the Torah (Leviticus 23:43). Absolutely no information exists that our ancestors who left Egypt dwelled in any structure other than tents! Sukkot is a geographic location. Sukkot was the first stop for our ancestors after they had miraculously crossed the sea after leaving Egypt. It would therefore make far more sense to understand that we are required by the Torah to locate a place once known as Sukkot and vacation there for seven days from the 15th of Tishrei until the 22nd of Tishrei! It may very well be that our dwelling in the Sukkah is a statement on our parts showing that the very same  rabbinic sages who were so truly divinely inspired and so unbelievably brilliant in interpreting the Torah, nevertheless had no way of foreseeing the travels and travails of their people. It’s one thing to dwell in a roofless hut in Sachse on Sukkot; it’s quite another thing to dwell in a roofless hut in Saskatoon on Sukkot.

The third inequality is a protest. With Yom Kippur mere days behind us, one would expect that the efficacy of the Day of Atonement to be fresh in our minds as well in HaShem’s heart. If we have been successful in having all of our sins expunged, then our relationship with our Maker ought to duplicate that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Just as they had free reign of pretty much every tree that grew from the ground, so too should be the case with us. The prerequisite of schach (that which grows from the ground but has been detached from the ground) ought to take on a powerful new understanding. By having a Sukkah sit-in, we are in effect demanding the same accommodation afforded to Adam and Eve! If those who are sin-free deserve paradisaical surroundings, then surely the Sukkah with its faux Garden of Eden covering serves the purpose.

Hopefully the Sukkah sit-n will grow in number over the years. Hopefully, the Sukkah sit – in will grow in understanding as well. Let it be a statement on our parts against the supposed physical security of our house, against the fact that our ancestors never dwelt in booths during their forty-year odyssey in the wilderness, against the fact that we fail to realize that dwelling in the Sukkah is our just dessert in that we are Adam and Eve redux.