By BETH J. HARPAZ
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Joan Torres isn't Jewish, but over the years, she's been invited to various Jewish celebrations.
"I know what to bring for Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and a shiva call," she said, using the term for a period of mourning following a death in the family. "But I know nothing about Hanukkah."
So when she got her first invitation to a Hanukkah party, Torres, who lives in New York City, put a query on Chowhound.com asking, "What would be appropriate to bring as a host/hostess gift?" Chowhound users — all food enthusiasts — answered well: wine, chocolates and doughnuts were among the good suggestions.
But what kind? Here are some specific ideas for Hanukkah party gifts, food and otherwise, and why they would be welcome.
Hanukkah lasts eight nights, beginning sundown Dec. 21.
Fried foods, including doughnuts, are a holiday tradition. According to the Hanukkah story, when oil was used to light a candelabra rededicating an ancient temple, the oil lasted eight days instead of one — a miracle,
Sufganiyot, or jelly doughnuts, are often eaten at Hanukkah parties. Find out if the party home is kosher. If not, jelly doughnuts from any shop are perfect for a Hanukkah party.
Wine is fine for a Hanukkah party. Again, if your host is kosher, make sure it's kosher wine.
I don't keep a kosher home, but I was touched when a non-Jewish friend brought Israeli wine to one of my parties. Another friend brought New York State wine, wrapped in a blue-velvet wine sleeve embroidered with a "Happy Hanukkah" greeting. Israeli wine is widely available these days; my local wine store in New York carries a good cabernet-syrah blend from the Tishbi Estate Winery in Israel for $12.
Coin-shaped Hanukkah chocolates, wrapped in gold or silver foil and sold in little mesh bags, can be found in party stores, candy stores, gift stores, and sometimes even in drug stores, grocery stores and stationery stores.
They're usually milk chocolate but dark chocolate is available too. The chocolate money is related to another custom: Children are usually given real coins, often referred to by the Yiddish term gelt, each night of the holiday.
CANDLES AND MENORAHS
Specialty stores and Judaica Web sites carry many types of Hanukkah candles — tall and tapered, hand-dipped, miniature, multicolored, embellished with sparkles and other designs.
For a bigger gift, you could give a menorah. I started out with a conventional brass menorah, inherited from my grandmother, but now I have a wonderfully eclectic collection of menorahs big and small, in unusual and artistic designs. For parties, we invite guests to help light them all.
Menorahs hold nine candles, one for each night plus one to light the others with, symbolizing the miracle from the original story when the oil burned for eight nights.
A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top. You can find dreidels in toy ships, gift shops, Judaica stores and online. Small, inexpensive wooden and plastic ones are fine for playing the dreidel game, but you can also find bigger, elaborately decorated dreidels suitable for display.
If kids will be at the party, you could provide a roll of coins for the game, which requires putting pennies (or dried beans or some other chit) into a communal pile, then taking them out, depending on how the dreidel lands when spun.
In kitchen supply stores and online, you can find cookie cutters in shapes associated with the holiday, including six-sided Stars of David, mini-menorahs and dreidels. Give Hanukkah cookie-cutters as a gift, or make the cookies yourself and bring them to the party. Decorate with mini-M&Ms; or blue-and-white sprinkles, the colors of the Israeli flag.
Potato pancakes, called latkes, are the classic Hanukkah food. They're best eaten piping hot from the kitchen, so you don't want to bring them to a party from outside on a winter night.
But they're usually served with applesauce. You could buy a fancy gourmet brand of applesauce for a party, or offer to bring some homemade. Just let the party hosts know ahead of time, and don't be late. You can't have latkes without applesauce!
DVDS, BOOKS, CDS
Funny Hanukkah movies include "The Hebrew Hammer," with a Shaft-style Jewish hero who saves Hanukkah; and for those who don't mind Adam Sandler's sometimes off-color humor, "Eight Crazy Nights."
For small children, many picture books tell the traditional story of Hanukkah, but the favorite in our house was Eric Kimmel's "Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins," which we read so often when our kids were small that we knew it by heart. For music fans, find a CD of classic Hanukkah songs, or go contemporary with Matisyahu.
Keep a lookout for Hanukkah-themed items as you do your holiday shopping and surf the Web; you never know what you might find.
One year, a friend who is an expert shopper with an eye for knickknacks gave me chocolate Maccabees. Maccabees were Jewish rebels who fought the Syrian army in the Hanukkah story. The chocolates were wrapped in colorful tin foil to resemble soldiers in vaguely Biblical garb.
That same friend tells me that this year, I'm getting salt-and-pepper shakers, decorated with dreidels.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.