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Hanukkah kicks off with new look due to pandemic


Peter Shelsky, owner of the deli Shelsky’s of Brooklyn, says his chef has been stooped over a vat of oil day-after-day preparing for Hanukkah this year.

Hanukkah is the ultimate fried food holiday,” Mr. Shelsky said Wednesday. “So, between fried potato latkes and Sufganiyot jelly donuts, sales are pretty strong and people are in the mood to pack on the calories.”

The eight nights of Hanukkah celebrations commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (circa 160 BCE) begin at sundown Thursday amid coronavirus restrictions on dining, gatherings and travel.

Mr. Shelsky said many Jewish celebrants usually leave town for the holiday, but the pandemic has forced more neighborhood residents to stay home. So customers instead are buying up his delicatessen’s gift baskets stuffed with chopped liver, gelt and a tub of crème fraîche to ship to relatives.

“They’re sending stuff instead of going to families, which is a good sign for public health,” the deli owner said.

Delis, grocers and restaurants are adapting to coronavirus challenges to provide comfort foods, like fried cheese pancakes, this Hanukkah.

In Los Angeles, Amelia Saltsman, author of “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen,” will give instructions virtually on cheese pancakes in one-hour workshops this weekend through the Skirball Cultural Center.

In Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood, Graystone Tavern is offering traditional fare, from latkes with apple sauce to sweet noodle kugel and a brisket platter for takeout.

And Call Your Mother Deli in the nation’s capital has run out of Hanukkah pre-order platters, which included latkes, shallots, pickled onion, smoked salmon and even caviar.

“We sold over 2,000 latkes, which is way more than we sold last year,” said Andrew Dana, owner of Call Your Mother. “I think everybody must be at home and looking for an excuse for something fun.”

This year’s Hanukkah will look different in ways other than the menu: From Long Island, New York, to Boulder, Colorado, congregations are conducting the traditional lighting of the menorah — a nine-pointed candelabra — virtually.

In Salt Lake City, the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah will host a car parade with rentable “car-top menorahs.” And Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, has invited congregants to the parking lot for the lighting of the giant menorah Monday evening.

“We’re used to being outside in the winter, and it may not be as cold as we’re used to this December,” said Matt Walzer, managing director of Beth El Synagogue. “While our building is closed, with the exception of our preschool, we felt like we could do something [for Hanukkah].”

Jewish Americans this Hanukkah will largely stay close to home as health officials discourage traveling — but that isn’t necessarily a dramatic shift, says one D.C.-area rabbi.

“It’s a home celebration,” said Rabbi Herzel Kranz of the Silver Spring Jewish Center. “It’s lighting the candles and playing the dreidel. It’s not an outside, group thing.”

Mr. Shelsky, who started his business a decade ago after schlepping into Manhattan to pick up food for a Jewish brunch on Christmas morning, said a lot of people sitting at home this year are appreciating a taste of normalcy they can find with his deli.

“We do it right as much as we can,” the deli owner said. “These are the foods I grew up with.”

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabees’ victory over the Seleucid Empire. According to tradition, the besieged Maccabees had enough oil to sustain their menorah for only a day, but it miraculously lasted eight days and helped secure their victory.

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