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Grace and grease are key to uniting faiths
columnist writes about sharing Hanukkah latkes with wife's relatives in Spotsylvania County

 Potato latkes, such as those shown above, are a staple of the Hanukkah menu and are downright delicious when gussied up with sour cream.
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Date published: 12/9/2009

By Kurt Rabin

AROUND this time last year I got a phone call that put the fear of God in me.

At least the fear of religion, anyway.

It was my wife's Aunt Karen calling to invite us to her family's rustic rambler in Spotsylvania County.

"Let's do Hanukkah!" she said. "I'll do the cooking if you'll teach my kids about the holiday."

Two thoughts sprang to mind. What made her think a nominal Jew like me would know anything about the Jewish holidays? And wasn't Karen--and her husband and kids, for that matter--Southern Baptist?

Hoping to discourage the idea, I said that I thought Hanukkah mainly involved eating foods cooked in oil.

"Any holiday that involves fried food is one my family can get behind," said Karen.

That's when I flashed back to the last time I had an inkling of what Judaism was all about: Hebrew school.

And the memory wasn't altogether pleasant.

I was 12 years old and living in Cherry Hill, N.J.

My Hebrew teacher, Mr. Shello, looked nothing like my dad or my friends' dads.

In fact, he didn't resemble any Jewish guy I'd ever seen, period. He was tall and fit, and wore his hair in a brush cut.

Rumor had it he'd fought in the Israeli army. Talk about some serious Jewish street cred!

But for some reason, every time Mr. Shello lent his rich baritone to those strange-sounding trills and fricatives, I'd convulse into uncontrollable laughter.

Mr. Shello would calmly banish me from class, telling me not to return until I was able to regain my composure.

Needless to say, I never learned a whole lot of Hebrew--or any other Jewish traditions--unless one considers throwing snowballs at motorists near the synagogue a rite of passage.

So, like most people in search of info on the run, I got an assist from Wikipedia.


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RUSSIAN VEGETABLE MEAT SOUP

Prep time: 40 minutes Cooking time: 2 hours Serves: 8 to 10

3 carrots2 medium white potatoes1 sweet potato 4 quarts water 2 pounds top rib, cut in 1-inch chunks cup dried lima beans cup dried green split peas One 2-ounce package dry mushrooms or 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms cup large whole barley pound fresh string beans, diced 4 ribs celery, diced Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: 1. Grate the carrots, white potatoes and sweet potato on the large holes of a grater, or use grating or steel blade of food processor. 2. Bring the water to a boil and add all the ingredients. 3. Cover and simmer about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. (If, when finished, you prefer a thinner soup, add more water.) Recipe from: "Joan Nathan's Jewish Holiday Cookbook"

ADA SHOSHAN'S APPLE LATKES

Prep time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 25 minutesMakes approx. 36 latkes

2 eggs, well beaten 1 cups orange juice, yogurt or milk2 cups all-purpose flour1 teaspoon baking powder Dash of salt to cup sugar, depending on taste 3 medium apples, peeled and coarsely grated Vegetable oil for frying Confectioners' sugar

Directions: 1. Mix the eggs with the orange juice, yogurt or milk in a bowl. 2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. 3. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture along with the grated apples. 4. Heat a thin layer of oil in a skillet. Allowing 1 large tablespoon of batter per latke or pancake, drop into the hot oil. 5. Cook about 2 minutes on each side, or until slightly golden. 6. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, and serve. Recipe from: "Joan Nathan's Jewish Holiday Cookbook"