December 12 marks the start of Hanukkah—the eight day festival of lights—in Jewish communities around the world. Commemorating the Jewish fight to gain religious freedom over the Syrian capture of a temple 2000 years ago, what was aimed to be a one-day menorah lighting lasted eight days. Each night a candle is lit to commemorate the miracle of the original menorah.
We’ve told you about some of the lesser known Jewish communities in Latin America, but you might not realize that Latinos right here in the US are also kicking off Hanukkah with a bang. As the Jewish and Latin American communities in larger cities become further intertwined, we’re starting to see a fusion of cultures with over the top Hanukkah celebrations that might be confused with a Christmas holiday gathering in Latin America. Here’s how different parts of the US are putting a Latin twist of the eight day festival.
Los Angeles has one of the longest running traditions of celebrating Hanukkah Latin American style. The Jewish Community Center’s Club Hebreo Latino has been selling out their Hanukkah events since 1993. By keeping Jewish religious customs strong and combining both the Spanish language with traditional Latin American food and music offerings, the organization caters to Jewish Latin Americans in ways that more mainstream Jewish organizations do not. Like the former executive director Moises Paz (and Latino Jew himself) from the Costa Mesa Jewish Community Center states, members appreciate the ability to “meet together to be able to express our Jewish identity in our mother tongues.”
And if you’re having trouble imagining exactly what kinds of food you might find in L.A. to celebrate the holiday, you can experience it year round at Takosher—the food truck offering up fusion tacos with brisket and latke fillings to honor the founders’ Jewish and Mexican roots.
Florida is one of the three states with the largest Latino Jewish population in the US, so it’s no surprise that Miami and its neighboring cities go all out to kick off Hanukkah. While much of the Latin American Jewish community in South Florida is of Cuban descent, Miami’s role as a gateway city for Latin America to the United States can be seen in relation to the Jewish population as well. With an influx of Jewish immigrants from Mexico, Venezuela, and Argentina since the turn of the century, celebrations consist of both café cubano and warm fried arepas filled with cheese. In Coral Springs, Florida, the local Chabad Center cooks up hundreds of handmade arepas and churros for their community each Hanukkah.
In New York, the city stays true to its melting pot identity when it kicks off Latino Hanukkah celebrations. Culinary fusion rather than sticking to traditionally Latin American foods is key. The practice of food fusion has become quite common in Jewish culture as of late—each country where Hanukkah is celebrated lends a bit of their own local flair to traditional Jewish recipes. Mexico City-native Julian Medina who himself converted to Judaism after moving to New York City, offers a Mexican-infused Hanukkah menu each year. If you’re looking to make something at home, look no further than Pati Jinich’s tasty and on point fusion recipes.
Fany Gerson, a Jew of Mexican descent and founder of La Newyorkina in New York City, also offers up Hanukkah-themed sweets among her always-kosher Mexican specialties at her West Village shop during this time of year. A bit spicier than what you might think of as a traditional Hanukkah treat, she swaps jelly filling for cinnamon, cajeta, and passion fruit with just a hint of guajillo chili shavings.
And if you’re looking for some fun in addition to your Hanukkah food in New York City, check out the city’s Jewish Latin Center celebrations this Sunday, December 17 in Chelsea.