Thursday, January 10, 2013

Chanukah Gelt

Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is observed for eight days, and commemorates the victory of a small band of Maccabees (Jews) over the pagan Syrian-Greeks who ruled over Israel at that time.  It starts on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, in the Hebrew lunar calendar. Because it is associated with a lunar calendar date, the date in the ‘regular’ 12 month calendar varies each year (as with all other Jewish holidays). Generally it takes place in the month of December though, so it fits in nicely with other holidays happening at the same time. 

The word Chanukah has two meanings – the first means ‘dedication’ since this festival marks the rededication of the previously defiled Temple in 165 BCE (BCE means Before the Common Era; the Common Era refers to the time after Jesus Christ was born. Jews use the terminology Before the Common Era (BCE) and After the Common Era (ACE) instead of BC and AD.)

The second meaning of Chanukah helps people remember what day (the Hebrew date) the festival begins! “Chanu” translated to “they rested”, and “Kah” (composed of the Hebrew letters for 25 - “Chof and Hay”) means “on the twenty fifth” (referring to the 25th day of the month Kislev). 

Please refer to, or other sites on the internet, for more information and details about Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah).

People generally refer to Chanukah as the Festival of Lights, in reference to the candles that Jews light for each of the 8 nights of Chanukah. The story goes that when the Maccabees, led by Judah, defeated the Syrian-Greeks and reclaimed the Temple, they discovered only enough fuel (oil) to last one day. It would take them 8 days to manufacture new oil. By some great miracle, the oil lasted for 8 days.
The candles are lit on a special candelabra called a Menorah or Chanukiat. Once the candles are lit, small gifts are often given to the children (Chanukah Gelt is customary here), and of course, traditional foods are eaten. As is the case with many Jewish holidays, Chanukah can be summed up as follows: the Jews battled their foes, we won, let’s eat! Most traditional Chanukah foods are fried in oil, to commemorate the miracle of the oil (for example, latkes (fried potato pancakes), and sufganyiot (fried jelly-filled doughnuts).

Chanukah Gelt (gelt is Yiddish for money) is essentially chocolate-covered coins. Traditionally, Jewish Rabbinical students would receive small sums of money as gifts from their benefactors at this time of the year. In the 1920s, the coins became chocolate once American chocolate makers came up with this amazing idea. Children are encouraged to give some of their gelt to charity, as charity is also a traditional Chanukah concept.

This year, I was doing some reading on gelt, charity, etcetera and came across a post on a blog discussing the concept of charity being a focus of Chanukah. Because of this charitable element, it behoves Jews to ensure that the chocolate gelt that they give is Fair Trade (and not made in some factory somewhere in the world that underpays their employees, or other uncharitable practices). I couldn’t agree more so I started to look online for Fair Trade gelt. I found some sites in the US but nothing in Canada – so I decided to make my own!

I started by purchasing some lovely Fair Trade dark chocolate with sea salt in it. Then I melted over a double boiler and poured it into a piping bag. I piped coin-shaped rounds onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and waited for the chocolate to harden a little.

Then my son and I experimented with various methods of imprinting the chocolate coins with images related to Israel and Chanukah. Here is what we tried:

1)      We took actual Israeli shekels (coins) and boiled them to sterilize them. Then we tried to stamp each coin with the shekel. This didn’t work at all. It was difficult to hold the coin without completely losing it in the chocolate blob, and it got messy.

2)      So then we tried wrapping the coin in Saran Wrap and twisting the Saran Wrap into a handle, thinking we could stamp the coins as though we were stamping into a wax seal on a letter. That didn’t work either.

3)      Third time lucky! We took skewers and drew little pictures on each coin ourselves, freehand. It was so much fun! My son loved coming up with designs (we did menorahs and the Hebrew letters that are on the dreidels (spinning tops) we play with at Chanukah).

Once your coins are decorated, put the tray in the fridge for them to harden. Then you can present them on a platter for your event, and keep the leftovers in the fridge - make sure you eat a couple of coins on each day of the holiday!
I didn’t take any photos of the process, but have posted a few of the end result – the best gelt we have ever had! I will definitely do this again next year, and might even up the ante by brushing each coin with some gold leaf once the chocolate has set.

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