Preparing for the Holidays: Why Food is a Cornerstone of the Jewish Faith

Crispy potato pancakes and sugar jelly donuts are some of the incredible delicacies eaten during Hanukkah. Since Jews follow a lunar calendar, this year Hanukkah will be from Dec. 22 to Dec. 30 as opposed to last year when it ran from Dec. 2 to Dec. 10. It’s nice and rather convenient that Hanukkah falls over the winter break this year, meaning that I will be able to celebrate with my family back home rather than here in Ottawa. 

Food is a very culturally and religiously important component of most Jewish holidays. During the new year, Rosh Hashanah, we dip apples in honey to represent the sweetness of an upcoming new year. On Passover, we have a whole seder plate where each piece of food represents a different plight applicable to the holiday: an egg to symbolize the cyclical nature of life and that there are good times ahead, horseradish to represent the bitterness of slavery, etc

Hanukkah is no different; we eat fried donuts and latkes to represent the miracle of oil that sustained the light of the Menorah over 2000 years ago. That’s why I was sad to learn that Ottawa’s only kosher Jewish bakery closed in July, a main supplier of these holiday staples.

Customers found out about the closure of the bakery without warning on Canada Day weekend, according to the Canadian Jewish News. Rideau Bakery was a local institution for over 90 years and like many Jewish bakeries, a staple in the community. Third-generation owners were producing traditional goodies from recipes brought by their family from Ukraine. 

Every week on Shabbat, practicing Jews eat Challah, a sweet egg bread, which is a rich treat to celebrate the day of rest. Something as simple as losing a local Challah supplier is a huge loss for the Jews that rely on it to make Shabbat each week. This doesn’t include the endless array of other Jewish foods like rugelach, knishes, hamantaschen and of course the aforementioned Hanukkah goodies, including the pouches of chocolate coins, essential to the game of dreidel!

Luckily, Ottawa Jews need not fret. After news of the closure, Farm Boy purchased Rideau Bakery, assuring that these important foods will live on and be available for purchase.

The holidays are a time for us to be grateful for what we have and try not to lament on things out of our control. Maybe this holiday season I'll ask my Baba to show me how to make and braid my own Challah so it is something I’ll know how to do in the future. As young adults, I would argue especially for Jews, it is up to us to seek out the ways of our religion and culture to be able to sustain important traditions for generations to come.