Why do we eat Potato Latkas on Chanuka?
On Itamar there once lived a very special person known as Mark in Russia – but we called him by his birth name Meir’ka (Hebrew meaning to shine). Meir’ka inspired by his great love and yearning for Zion and national identity, left his family in Russia to move to Israel. His father was put to death by the Soviet Union for teaching and spreading Judaism. Afterwards, his mother was taken to a camp in Siberia never to return home again. Meri’ka, who was now considered a son of enemies of the state, was taken by force from his relatives and put into an orphanage at the tender age of seven. At the age of 16 he was let out of the orphanage weighing only 65 pounds. If it wasn’t for his sister helping him he wouldn’t have made it. He lived in an area that was totally barren of any Jewish life. One time I asked him how he reconnected himself with our faith. He said it was the potato Latkas that his grandmother would prepare on Chanuka. Yes, recalling the Chanuka experience with his grandmother awakened his heart to return to the land of Israel!
In reality, this is the source of our custom to eat Potato latkas on Chanuka made in oil. This reminds us of the miracle of the oil Menorah. The light of the Chanukah menorah is imbedded within the oil and runs through our veins and arteries after being part of our Chanukah feast. In this same way, the hidden light within our soul is the light of heroism that led the Maccabees to victory. This light was scattered into millions of sparks that ignited hope and faith into our people throughout the sufferings of exile. As Harav Kook writes “The G-dly flame of the souls of the Maccabees exploded into millions of sparks that when they will come together again as a torch they will again radiate as they did in the past.” This is because of the fact that as long as Israel is in exile the Divine light that shines within them is in exile as well. But all these lights are turning into a torch with the return of our people to the land of Israel. This is what the name of Meir’ka is all about. As the people of Israel continue to return home the light of Israel will continue to grow stronger and stronger – until our temple will be restored. Chanukah sameach!!
Translated from the original Hebrew version of Rabbi Natan Chay – Itamar’s chief Rabbi
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