Inspiration for the Sixth Night: A Mexican Hanukkah
Let’s be honest; by the sixth night of Hanukkah, the magic can wear thin.
Yet Deborah De Costa’s beautiful children’s book Hannukkah Moon
reminds us that the sixth night of Hanukkah is a particularly special night of the holiday. The title refers to the appearance of the new moon on the sixth night, signalling the arrival of the Jewish month of Tevet. Jewish tradition celebrates each new month with additional prayers and historically giving women a half day off to connect with the cycles of the moon. In that sense, the sixth night should be doubly important. De Costa’s take goes beyond ancient traditions and adds a wonderful and inspiring dimension to the sixth night.
Her story focuses on Isobel who comes to spend the night at the home of her Aunt Louisa. (The only unsatisfying element of the book is why her parent leave her on her own.) Hanukkah at Aunt Louisa’s brings together traditional Jewish rituals, Mexican themes, and personal flair. A skilled photographer, Aunt Louisa fashions a “Feliz Januca” sign from photos she has taken of birds in her yard. There is a dreidel piñata filled with chocolate coins and tiny prizes. There are potato latkes and couscous. There are holiday songs in English and Spanish as well as Hebrew blessings.
This year the Mexican Jewish community is celebrating its centenary. The majority of the country’s 40,000 Jews live in Mexico City, where there are Jewish neighborhoods, kosher restaurants, and Jewish schools. In the smaller communities, such as Guadalajara, Veracruz, or Monterrey, Jewish life tends to revolve around the synagogue. Rabbi Joshua Kullock of Comunidad Judía de Guadalajara says this is part of what makes Hanukkah so special. Unlike the rest of the year when community comes together in the synagogue, “Hanukkah is really a strong family holiday, even non-religious people celebrate it. They go to their grandparents, or cousins, or gather in each other’s homes and they give gifts, every night until the last night. It is a very full family week.”
According to Kullock, the relative youth of the community, in comparison to that of Turkey or Morocco for example, means that there have yet to develop specifically Mexican Jewish Hanukkah customs. Hanukkah foods hearken back to the European roots of the community, latkes and jelly doughnuts dominate but as Kullock explains some local fried items like the cream filled dough balls, bolas de fraile, are popular, too.
When I asked him about Da Costa’s suggestion of a dreidel piñata, Kullock laughed. “There is nothing more Mexican than a piñata. Every child has one for every birthday. They do not need to wait until Hanukkah to have one.” But on the other hand, his community had a piñata for Purim a few years ago so he sees nothing wrong with adding a little Mexican flair to the holiday.
For those of us looking for a way to add an extra dimension to the sixth night of Hanukkah and its new moon, Deborah Da Costa’s book, aimed at children 6 and older, provides an opportunity to explore new ways of celebrating and learning about the global Jewish people. While Aunt Louisa’s special traditions may not mirror Rabbi Kullock’s experience of the holiday in Mexico exactly, they speak to the blending and mixing that is part of everyday Jewish life in his community. Taking time to read Da Costa’s lovely tale should not only inspire us to learn more about our Jewish cousins south of the border, but it can also provide a wonderful template for a lively Hanukkah moon celebration!