How a New Chanukah Tradition is Born

Posted on December 25, 2014 by in Blog, Recipes

My mother and father, Margit and Sandor Kirsche, both survived the Holocaust and made a new life in Chicago, but they brought with them the faith and traditions of their families “at home.” For my mother “at home” was Vásárosnamény, Hungary, and for my father Hluboka, Czechoslovakia where they were born and raised prior to the Holocaust.

My mother remembers all her family’s Chanukah traditions: “We used a menorah that burned oil and we lit it with wicks, not candles. We still do today. Each night our parents gave us a few pennies, Chanukah Gelt.

The traditional “Maoz Tzur” has many stanzas. My mother says she does not remember her father singing too much (she believes he did not like to sing), but her husband, my father, traditionally sang all the stanzas every night after lighting the Chanukah menorah.

My mother remembers, “We played cards on Chanukah.  My older brother Morton, made cards from paper when I was young and the two of us played cards at my aunt and uncle who live across the street. We received Chanukah gelt (money) from our parents and used these few coins to play Blackjack.  It was customary ‘at home’ not to learn Torah or Jewish studies on Christmas and New Year’s Eve so our tradition was we played cards on those evenings also. When we came to Chicago we played cards on those evenings with our close friends, the Adlers. They came over to our house ad I would prepare some light refreshments. One year I made fresh csöröge and served them: they were delicious!”

As a child in Chicago, I remember there was only the four of us (my mother and father, myself and my brother) at Chanukah. But in 1973 when my father’s sisters, Goldie and Chana, were allowed to leave the Soviet Union and came to Chicago with their families, my mother was so happy that she began a new tradition: a family Chanukah party. This continues today, 41 years later, and now four generations attend the party!

This year at my mother’s Chanukah party we lit the menorah and sang all the verses of Maoz Tzur, as we do every year. The kitchen was filled with food including my mother’s latkes (page 202), and the dessert table overflowed with sweets including my cousin Ibi’s cheese blintzes. Two long tables stretched down the living room and chairs and couches lined the walls.

Some 40 guests—family (including my mother’s great grandchildren) and friends— drank and ate and talked; my mother had Chanukah Gelt for the children and playing cards for everyone; and, at the end, we played Blackjack with the kids.

And what better way to wish you every happiness at Chanukah and a year filled with many blessings, than by giving you my mother’s recipe for Csöröge. Chanukah Sameach!

Csöröge (Crispy Fritters)

The tablespoon of sugar and pinch of salt are optional, but I find they add just the right flavor to the fritters.

Makes 35 to 40

3 eggs

1 ½ to 2 cups flour

1 tablespoon sugar, optional

Pinch salt, optional

Oil, as needed, for deep-frying

In a small bowl, beat the eggs by hand with the salt and sugar, if using. Place the flour in a separate large bowl. Mix in the eggs and knead until the dough forms a ball and cleans the sides of the bowl.

Divide into 4 equal pieces and cover three with a damp kitchen towel. Roll out the first piece on a floured surface until the dough is 1/8 inch thick. Cut into rectangular strips, make a slit in the center and pull one end through.

Deep fry in 375°F oil until cooked through, crisp and golden. Transfer to paper towel-lined baking pans, dust well with powdered sugar and serve hot.

Variations: add 2 tablespoons of cream to the dough, making it dairy. Add cinnamon as needed to the powdered sugar for topping.