First night of Hanukkah celebrated in Winnipeg

Winnipeg’s Jewish community celebrated the start of Hanukkah Sunday with latkes, sufganiyot and the lighting of menorahs across the city.

Shaarey Zedek Synagogue holds first ever latke challenge

River Heights-Fort Garry councillor John Orlikow, left, lights the Hanukkah menorah at the Jewish Learning Centre in Winnipeg Sunday, the first night of Hanukkah. (Shane Gibson/CBC)

Winnipeg's Jewish community celebrated the start of Hanukkah Sunday with latkes, sufganiyot and the lighting of menorahs across the city.

What was likely the largest menorah — a Hanukkiah standing six-feet tall — was lit in front of a crowd of more than 300 people at the Jewish Learning Centre (JWL).

"We're coming together to light the kindle, the Hanukkah lamps, which commemorates the miracle of Hanukkah many thousands of years ago," said Shmuly Altein, a Chabad rabbi at the JWL.

"We celebrate for eight nights, it's a really a wonderful time when people of all parts of the community come together to celebrate."

Shmuly Altein, a Chabad rabbi at the Jewish Learning Centre says more than 300 people attended the centre's menorah lighting Sunday. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The celebration, which included a performance by the Borzykowski Brothers, dancing and crafts for the kids, wrapped up with a car menorah parade through the neighbourhood around the JWL at 1845 Mathers Ave.

And of course there was food.

There was plenty of latkes, a fried potato pancake, and sufganiyot — a fried pastry not too different than a jambuster — for everyone.

"The Jewish custom is to eat these foods that are fried in oil because we commemorate the miracle of the Hanukkah lamps in the Temple," explained Altein.

The history of Hanukkah goes back over 2,000 years. In 139 BCE, the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem to liberate it from Seleucid Greek rule and rededicate the Temple with a new altar and menorah — the word Hanukkah means "dedication" in Hebrew. 

Hanukkah, the festival of lights, commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

As for the miracle, the Maccabees found they only had enough oil to light the new menorah for one day, but it ended up burning for eight nights according to tradition. Since then, a festival of lights has been celebrated every year to remember the occasion.

"That's why we celebrate for eight nights and why the Hanukkiah has eight candles," said Altein.

The city's best latke?

As the JWL held their annual celebration, a new one was started at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue.

The Wellington Crescent synagogue held their first ever Top Chef Family Latke Challenge, which saw four chefs compete to find out who could flip the city's best latkes.

"Each one is bringing something from a different place," explained Shaarey Zedek's director of engagement and education, Dr. Rena Secter Elbaze, of the chefs, who were each given one hour to create their latke masterpieces.

Shaarey Zedek Synagogue held its first ever latke-making competition Sunday. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

"We've got a longtime Winnipeg, we've got somebody who was born and grew up in Argentina then moved to Israel, we've got somebody who is from ex-Soviet Union and lived in Israel and they're all bringing their diverse culinary skills," Elbaze said.

While latkes are traditionally made mostly with just potatoes, the chef's creations at Sunday's event included potato pancakes made with Granny Smith apples, tahini paste, zucchini and jalapeno peppers.

The event also included an olive oil tasting — because it's all about the oil, said Elbaze — featuring a special oil from Israel, crafts for the kids and a mobile coffee bar.

Shaarey Zedek’s director of engagement and education, Dr. Rena Secter Elbaze, says the synagogue's Top Chef Family Latke Challenge is likely going to become an annual event. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Elbaze said the first-time event was a sell-out — with more than 200 people attending —​ and the synagogue is likely going to make the competition an annual event.

"We have more people who wanted to come," she said.

"I think it's going to become a tradition because people have been saying they want to compete next year."

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