Hanukkah Memories

by The Members of Sof Maʻarav


Hanukkah is a family holiday that evokes memories. We’ve asked members of our Congregation to share some of those memories. What follows are their stories, in their words.



“Hanukkah grew bigger and bigger as a celebration as the years went by. My family of birth did little with it. Then when Gin and I had children, and cousins had children, we started to develop playlets, ceremonies, and other ways of telling the story that would interest children and amuse adults.  The most outstanding version of the story was a puppet presentation.  Gin made the hand puppets, we wrote the script together, and we were the puppeteers. The children provided the voices from the script. Lots of fun! I wish that I kept some remnant of that endeavor.

Another time we had a Hanukkah contest.  The winner was a menorah in the form of a baseball team in the field.  The pitcher was the Shamash. The big question was where to start the lighting.”

– Mat Sgan


“My children considered themselves to be very lucky to have a mother who was a convert. Let’s be honest here – my spiritual path meant nothing to them; what was important was the opportunity to double-dip at the holidays. I festooned our house lavishly with Hanukkah decorations and, of course, there were Hanukkah gifts each night. From my ex-husband’s mother they also got gifts for Hanukkah (Bertha was an old-fashioned speller). But then at Christmas they hit up my relatives and they cleaned up all over again. As my smart aleck son Jeff always said at the end of every holiday season- “Thanks Mom!”

– Kay Lorraine


“In July 2003 our family moved here from New Jersey. Our Hanukkah celebrations before we came to Hawaii were spent in a family tradition that began 36 years ago with the first born of the five cousins my niece, Michelle. As the years progressed, my sister Bobbie and I and our cousins Martin, Lois, and Amy grew their families and then we had ten more babies and children at our yearly Hanukkah party. A special year included a Hanukkah Bat Mitzvah celebration at Temple Israel in Ridgewood. As Abraham responded to “Lech Lecha:” “Go forth, recreate yourself, your environment, go to a land that I show you, and become the person you were meant to be with My help and My guidance.” We found a new home on Oahu at Congregation Sof Ma’arav. It was here that we were able to take life as we knew it before and recreate a new solid base of friendships and holiday memories. Over these fifteen years of Shabbat services, High Holidays, drashes / commentaries, Talmud, Torah study, board positions, Biblical Hebrew classes, welcoming strangers into our midst and now our latest newsletters, we provide the Jews of Hawaii along with many out of town members access to what is happening weekly, monthly, yearly within a vibrant community. It never was about standing still.


To remain effective, we continually create, in our own individual ways, stretching and exploring our positive potential as human beings. We represent glimmering lights of celebration walking in the ways of Hashem.”

– Sandra Armstrong


“My early Hanukkah memories have a lot to do with latkes. I remember my first Hanukkah party with Sof Ma’arav “the party Shul”, and the massive latkes’ fry they held for the Jewish community. Far beyond a common hash brown, latkes are crispy and tender enjoyed as both sweet and savory – like so many things Jewish, latkes are a dichotomy that find balance. With Hanukkah’s close proximity to Christmas, American Jews tend to take the time to really celebrate the holiday, and make it — special.


Not long after my conversion, I moved to Israel where Hanukkah is treated a little less “special”. There is no massive mercantile holiday adjacent; no need to take time off from work or school; nothing closes for this holiday. The High Holidays precede Hanukkah, and much time off and great effort ARE taken for them. Hanukkah is just a very nice time of year with humble gatherings, fun for kids, and of course food. Yes, there are latkes, many latkes, but in Israel the star of the show has to be SUFGANIOT [jelly donuts]!


Israelis claim to put on the kilos during Hanukkah and these fried babies have a lot to do with it! To be sure, sufganiot is seasonal, and it is imperative you get ‘em while they’re hot! Sufganiot are oversized, light and fluffy on the inside and, when fresh, slightly crispy on the outside. They are filled with a generous portion of glossy, bright-red raspberry-ish jelly. The confection is kissed with powdered sugar and presented two dozen at a time in large cardboard boxes. Long before actually seeing these golden globes, they can be smelled as one approaches the bakery. Ahhhh! Everyone knows that sufganiot have to be eaten warm and fresh, so each new batch sells out quickly. They are absolutely worth the effort!


That was a long time ago, and I have since then enjoyed many more stateside latkes and even sufganiot from good kosher bakeries. But every year at Hanukkah time my thoughts transport me back to the streets of Merkaz Horev on Mt. Carmel (Haifa). The weather is turning cold, Hanukkah symbols adorn the windows of businesses and homes, and there is a playful bustle in the breeze. And as I walk to my favorite bakery in anticipation, I am reminded that this not so special holiday is indeed, very special.”

– Athena DeRasmo



“On Erev Shabbos, the 5th night of Hanukkah 1974 I discovered that I was Jewish. I was a Yogi standing at the door of the House of Love and Prayer, a Jewish spirituality center run by the followers of the radical Chassidic rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach.  Ever since my 13th year, when I finished the trauma which was my Bar Mitzvah, I threw away the Chumash in favor of pursuits such as ancient magic, Eastern Philosophy and a psychedelic drug or two. By the age of 21 I was a Taoist minister, a Kung Fu artist, and a follower of Allan Watts, Ram Dass and other Bu-Jews and Bu-Goys. The last thing on my mind was anything smacking of Jewish! Yet after learning about this place from a reading of “The First Jewish Catalog,” I found myself entering this bastion of Hippy Jew-dom.


The real magical moment began to build up after Rabbi Carlebach joined the 75 mostly young people waiting for him in this cozy little shul-space surrounded by ancient, Hebrew bookshelves.  He took 45-minutes to hug, kiss and schmooze with everyone in the room. Then, things began to hop as he sat in a chair and regaled us with hours of Niggun singing, Chassidic teachings, wisdom tales, and Q & A. Finally, he looked at his watch and said, “Gevalt it’s almost midnight we gotta daven like mad!” He stood up and led us through the most song-happy service you ever heard. Most of us did not know Hebrew and couldn’t sing with gusto until he stopped and turned around and said: “Brothers and sisters – before Hashem made Adam who formed words, He created music, so please do not let the words get in the way.” This time as he sung we jumped up and down in total ecstasy (and without drugs!). I remember that as I my whole body sang I was transported to somewhere between the ceiling and the floor and there I heard a still, small voice say: “Oh wow, I’m one of these people.” And at that moment, I was home.”


– Rabbi Daniel Lev


“As Auschwitz survivors, it was a very big deal for my dad to find a living sister in Winnipeg, which is in Canada (385-400 miles north of Minneapolis St Paul).   Thus, a migration of my family from Israel to “Winterpeg” (Winnipeg – spend one winter there and you’ll know).


As new immigrants, my parents could not afford to go out and buy a Hanukkah. My dad found a scrap piece of molding type wood. He then found bottle caps and nailed them onto the molding. The cap on the extreme right had 3 bottle caps layered and nailed in. I remember standing next to dad and my brother as he recited the blessings and lit the candles.”


– Ron Plucer



“For me, our party stirs memories of family times when, as a child, my aunties and later as an adult my cousin’s wives would bring our extended family together.

This picture is from about 1953.  My Father, Budd, and my grandmother, Sarah, loved us all ferociously.  She taught that love to my Dad and he taught it to me.  Can you recognize me?  I’m second from the left next to my brother, Jerry.



This picture is from about 1984. It shows a gathering of me honoring the memory above with my cousin’s kids.  PS. I’m the one in the back row.



Kids grow up and move away, grandparents and parents pass away.  I treasure these times because they make wonderful memories for me and I know they’ll make wonderful memories for my kids.



As a new grandparent myself, one of my greatest simchas is to see the parent my children have come to be.”

– Les Rosenthal

Aspiring to be a better Jew


“It was years ago, before we were affiliated with Sof, my daughter was very young. We were at folk dancing one night in December. The subject of Hanukkah came up and she enthusiastically said she knew what it celebrated – the story of Buddha the Maccabee! (Only in Hawaii!)”

– Frances Maltin