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December 06. 2012 10:45PM

As Hanukkah approaches, some seek healthier traditions

MANCHESTER - Across New Hampshire Saturday night, Jewish families will gather in homes or places of worship to light a candle, sparking to life the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah, a holiday marked by candles, games, gift exchanges and, of course, traditional food.

And while eating is part of the Hanukkah tradition - what holiday, in fact, from Christmas to the Muslim fast-breaking of Eid al-Fitr is not strongly associated with food? - health considerations are creeping in to what has traditionally been a time to splurge on saturated fat.

One single homemade potato pancake - deep fried in oil and topped with sour cream - can render as much as 10 grams of fat in a 158-calorie serving, according to the website myfitnesspal.com. To some, that's just too much explosive celebration for the arteries.

"Many are trying to bring in healthier eating," said Jeff Fladen, executive director of the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire. So for this Hanukkah, his staff is trying something different - a sweet potato latke. Latkes are a traditional Hanukkah treat, made from a mash of minced potatoes and onions that is deep fried.

Inbar Keren, the Israeli emissary and young adults coordinator at the Jewish Federation, said her mother came up with the idea of using sweet potatoes.

"She got bored, she was trying to be creative," said Keren, who plans to cook up the sweet-potato latkes next week. Other recipes call for pan frying the latkes in a small amount of oil to avoid the overload of the traditional treat. And Fladen said gluten-free doughnuts are available as a substitute for another Hanukkah treat, fried doughnuts.

But to others, compromising on latkes and doughnuts is like serving boiled chicken on Thanksgiving.

"Jeff may feel that way," said Steve Saulten, president of Temple Israel, a conservative congregation in the North End of Manchester, "but our synagogue is going to have deep-fried latkes, you can bet on that."

In fact, tradition has turned out to be a boon for Temple Israel. Last year, it had seven students in its Hebrew School; this year, 23 will take part in a menorah lighting and temple-wide party that starts at noon Sunday.

He said the temple brought in teachers steeped in the script and language of ancient Hebrew. Now, the congregation of about 60 families counts five new young families.

"The board and I made a commitment. If you build it, they will come," he said.

Their Sunday celebration, which also welcomes residents from a nearby retirement home, mirrors potluck dinners, candle lightings and gatherings that will take place across the state.

Included are:

-- 2 p.m. today, at the State House, Lubavitch of New Hampshire will undertake a pre-Hanukkah lighting of a menorah on the State House grounds. Rabbi Levi Krinsky said the event is to remind Jews to light their menorahs after sundown on Saturday. Because Hanukkah starts Saturday night, the first candle should be lit after sundown; Jewish law forbids lighting a fire during the Sabbath, he said.

-- 6:30 p.m. Sunday, at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. A Hanukkah-oriented show will include songs, dancing and a magic show.

-- 5 p.m. Saturday. The Upper Valley Jewish Community in Hanover will include a talent show in its Hanukkah party.

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Mark Hayward may be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.


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