Fried food and gambling chocolate coins

A Hanukkah story about leading with your strengths

On the fifth night of Hanukkah, the menorah at the mall caught my friend’s eye.

“Look at those broken lights,” he said. “Only six lights are working.”

For a second, I thought my friend was messing with me. But he wasn’t kidding. He was outraged, not just on behalf of his Jewish friend, but on behalf of all Jews shopping at this particular open-air mall.

“This is some disrespectful shit,” he said. “I need to speak to someone about this. Who’s running this damn mall?”

“Um… dude…”

“I’m not messing around, Michael. Hanukkah is always an afterthought at these public holiday displays. Look at that Christmas tree. It’s gigantic and glorious. I’ll bet you every light bulb on that Christmas tree works. Y’all are getting shafted.”

“This is a menorah, dude.”

“Exactly! All the lights should work.”

“They do work.”

My friend pointed an accusatory finger at the mall menorah’s three unlit candles.

“Does that look like a functioning… what did you call it?”

“Menorah.”

“Right. Does that look like a functioning menorah, Michael?”

“Yes, it does. But let me ask you something. Are you familiar with the story of Hanukkah?”

“No.”

“Do you mind if I Jew-splain for a minute?”

“Be my guest.”

I gave my friend the abridged version of Hanukkah. Basically, the ancient Jews were living under the rule of a foreign empire. Things were kosher(ish) with that arrangement, until they weren’t, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the folly of empire. ANYWAY, one day, shit had gone too far, or maybe shit had gotten real. Either way, there was an “inciting incident” that galvanized these total gangsters called Maccabees to make their gangster move and led a revolt.

“That sounds epic,” my friend said.

“Totally epic. Mel Gibson actually wanted to make a movie about the Maccabees. He thought it was like a western, only with swords and tunics, instead of horses and six-shooters. Like a Jewish Braveheart.”

“But isn’t Mel Gibson an—”

“Yup. That’s why Warner Bros. shut the movie down. But back to our story, the story of Hanukkah.”

“Hey, how are you supposed to spell Hanukkah, anyway?” he asked. “That always confuses me.”

“However Google tells you to spell it. Now, where was I?”

“Gangster shit.”

“Right. So, all the gangster shit ran its course. The Jews were finally safe from whoever was trying to kill us this time. But we had another problem. The Temple. It was a mess. Remember, this was ancient Jerusalem. You couldn’t just hire a Task Rabbit.”

“So they cleaned the Temple?”

“Well, they tried to. But there’s all these rituals.”

“What kinds of rituals?”

“If I was a more observant Jew, I’d know the answer. But I’m not that kind of Jew, and this isn’t that kind of Hanukkah story. They needed oil to light lamps to cleanse the Temple. But, and this is the key part, they only had enough oil for, like, one night.”

“What happened to all the other oil?”

“I don’t know. It was destroyed in the fighting, or something.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Michael.”

“Well, if that doesn’t make sense, then hold onto your butt because the next part is bonkers.”

I pointed to the first candle in the mall menorah.

“They only had enough oil for one night. I know, you don’t buy it, but just go with it. Because the oil that was supposed to last only one night, actually lasted eight nights.”

“What!? How?”

“That’s the miracle of Hanukkah. Although, I’m personally skeptical about the miracle part. I wasn’t there.”

“No shit.”

“It seems entirely plausible that someone had extra oil and was like, don’t tell anyone, but I refilled the oil for eight nights, and everyone got so excited about miracles that I didn’t want to spoil the mood because after all that gangster shit things were so grim.”

“You’re saying it’s a myth?”

“Probably. But it’s a damn good myth. One that would make a good movie. From a different filmmaker, of course.”

“Of course. But why are those lights out?”

“Because we light one candle each night of Hanukkah to celebrate the miracle.”

My friend looked back at the menorah. I saw a lightbulb go off in his eyes, and then he began to do the math.

“The one that’s behind and slighter higher than the rest is the shamash,” I explained. “It lights all the other candles.”

“OK… I dig it. So, what do you y’all do on Hanukkah?”

“We spin the Dreidel and gamble on the outcome with these chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.”

“Your religion celebrates gambling?”

“I don’t know where the Dreidel comes from, but gambling seems like a solid homage to the gangster shit from the story. Plus, we eat fried foods.”

“Fried foods, why?”

“You need a reason to eat fried foods? They’re delicious because they’re fried. But on Hanukkah we eat fried food to remember the miracle with the oil.”

“What kinds of foods do you fry?”

“Latkes.”

“Latkes?”

“Potato pancakes. You put apple sauce on them. Maybe sour cream. Maybe both, if you’re living right.”

“What about ketchup?”

“Not if you want to be invited back next year.”

“But they’re basically hash browns.”

“Hash browns that kick ass and take names.”

“So why not ketchup?”

“Look, I’m not going to debate you, dude. Put ketchup on, if you want. But know this: you’re just wrong.”

“OK, so you eat latkes because of the oil.”

“And donuts for dessert. Donuts are fried in oil too.”

“You eat hash browns, I mean latkes, and donuts for this holiday?”

“Yes, and we gamble with chocolate coins.”

“And gamble with chocolate coins.”

“That sounds amazing,” he said. “I want in!”

“Thanks for explaining Hanukkah.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

“Hey, um, can I give the Jewish people some marketing advice?”

“You can give this Jew some marketing advice.”

“I think you’re pitching Hanukkah all wrong.”

“Oh really.”

“Yes.”

“OK, how would you pitch Hanukkah?”

“Lead with the fried food. Donuts, latkes! America will totally embrace a holiday of fried food. It’ll be huge on social media. I’ll bet you all the chocolate coins in the world that with the right combination of GIFs and hashtags Hanukkah will go viral.”

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