The Latke-Eating Contest
It is often said that cultural Jews have bolstered Chanukah as a holiday of greater import than deserved in order to have something to celebrate while Christians boast gift giving, Santa Claus and good tidings.
My family falls willingly into that stereotype. Since I was a young girl, it is not Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanna that makes me tingle inside with reminders of my youth, but Chanukah. The wintry air, the awesome story of the impossible made me feel like Jews were the originators of elucidating miracles before 34th street ever existed.
Every year my mother, father and I trudge the four blocks due east from Riverside Drive to Central Park West battling the crosswinds at every avenue’s end with an industrial-sized bag full of presents wrapped in paper festooned with glittery menorahs. When I was younger I brought all of my friends with me. A gaggle of girls trailed my parents by or so 30 steps so they didn’t hear us talk about boys and not doing our math homework.
When I was 13, a freshman in high school, I brought my best friends Szoke, Zoila and Delilah with me to my Tante’s house. Szoke and Zoila are Jews, like me, but Delilah is not, and as far as I remember, she had never played dreidle or eaten a latke.
I bragged the whole way from my house to Tante’s (trailing behind my mom and dad) that my Tante’s latkes, though catered, were awesome and I could eat 20 of them. Delilah was a ferocious eater with little more than 100 pounds to show for it and enticed us with a friendly competition: Who would be able to eat the most latkes?
We lit the candles, blue napkins atop our heads because Tante couldn’t find proper scarves. Then we sang the blessings, my voice and hers the only audible ones. As soon as the last “shel Chanukah” was recited I ran to the table and began to devour, Delilah steps behind me.
The four of us sat at the table. At first we dipped obediently and equitably into the apple sauce and crème fraiche, savoring every bite. As we sped up we abrogated form and sloppily coated our latkes with the sauces. And we ate, latke after latke after latke after latke. Szoke and Zoila dropped out at around 8 but me and Delilah went on strong at 12. I got to 16, Delilah a triumphant 20. Delilah got to take home all of the Hanukah gelt. But she didn’t want it by then, nobody did.
Collier Meyerson is a bi-racial Jew adopted by a Black non-Jewish mother and White Ashkenazi Jewish father.