by Carole Stone
The room throbbed with excitement. Children were scattered everywhere – some in a circle playing dreidl, a game played with a spinning top; others were playing tag in the patio; still others were hanging on to their parents' legs or snuggled in their arms. Teens were conspiring in the patio corner. Such was this year's Chanukah party, attended by 100 people, at the JC3 here in San Miguel.
We gorge on latkes, the traditional potato pancakes that are so delicious served with a topping of applesauce or sour cream. Guests are encouraged to bring a dish – a salad, dip or whatever – to share. We wound up with two long tables filled with all sorts of vegetarian dishes. The food was fabulous – my favorite part.
We lit our nine-branched menorahs (candelabras) at sunset. The room filled with the light from those many tiny, brightly-colored candles as we sung the blessing in Hebrew, "Blessed are You, our Sovereign, Who has sanctified us by Your commandments and commanded us to light these Chanukah candles."
Then the music began. First, the combo played a light pop tune and couples danced. Subtly, the music changed, morphing into Klezmer, or what I call Jewish Jazz. I can't imagine what possessed these young musicians from central Mexico to embrace such a quirky musical style, but (in the vernacular), they nailed it!
Chanukah isn't a deeply religious holiday. Rather, it's a celebration of the fact that a small army of Jews, the Maccabees, fought against the Seleucid Greek army and, even though greatly outnumbered, won. When it was time to purify and re-dedicate our Temple in Jerusalem, there was only one small flask of the sacred oil, enough to burn for one day. It would take a full week to make more. The miracle was that this small amount of oil burned for eight days. This is why it is customary to celebrate Chanukah for eight days and to eat foods fried in oil. In fact, the food may just be the best part of the holiday! Can you infer my priorities?
The make-up of our community in this small Mexican town is quite diverse. We are comprised primarily of American, European and Mexican Jews. We have many Mexican converts to Judaism. We also have some non-Jewish members. We are full-timers, part-timers and tourists here in San Miguel. Everyone is welcome here. To cater to our diversity most of our activities are bilingual. Why not? As a retiree, it's darn hard to learn a new language.
As someone who has been a part of this special community for 20 years, I've seen many changes. We started out renting space at the hotel Quinta Loreto. Now we have our own building (on the corner of Las Moras and 5 de Mayo in Colonia Guadiana). We have created a beautiful, spiritual space where many kinds of activities take place: dance classes, art classes, films, lectures, religious services... We began as a group of "gringos" from the US, average age about 70, who met weekly to discuss aspects of our Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Now, gracias a dios / boruch hashem we have many children, young adults, teens amongst us. We hold activities almost every day. Our congregation is roughly half Anglo and half Mexican. We have had weddings, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and other joyous life-cycle events.
Like the oil for the menorah in the Temple that first Chanukah, we started out here in San Miguel in a small way, but you wouldn't know that from this year's party. We've had our own miracle in that like the original oil we have lasted and grown in quantity and light. Come visit and celebrate with us.
My recipe for latkes (my Chanukah gift to you):
Matzoh meal, flour or breadcrumbs
Grate the potatoes finely and place in salted cold water.
Grate the onion, drain and set aside.
Drain the potatoes, place in a tea towel and squeeze until very dry.
Place in a large mixing bowl, combine with the grated onion. Add eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is wet but not soupy. Season with salt and pepper.
Add matzoh meal, flour, breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs, just until the mixture is thicker. It's really only to absorb the potato water.
Heat your frypan. Add a generous amount of oil. Add batter by the spoonful – large or small – and fry until golden. Turn and repeat. Place cooked latkes on a wire rack to drain and cool.
Latkes may be baked in the oven to reheat. They will become very crisp and the excess oil will drain away.
Jewish Cultural and Community Center (JC3)
Carole Stone is a 20-year resident of San Miguel de Allende. She came here with her husband to start a Chinese restaurant. Although the restaurant failed, San Miguel took hold in both of their hearts. Carole is a former teacher and professional musician. She sang and taught voice for many years in Pittsburgh, PA, her home,. She is now the Cantorial soloist for her Jewish community south of the border, mostly for the Jewish holidays.