By Deborah Appel
When I was a kid, there were two important establishments on Main Street in our small New England town – Annino’s Drug Store and Edlen’s Bakery. Annino’s was where we kids got our candy and cherry cokes, and Edlen’s was known for its delicious, freshly made jelly doughnuts. Since both were across the street from the junior high, my friends and I went there every day after school. I was sure there were no better jelly doughnuts anywhere in the world.
Fast forward to December 1975 when I was on my way to Israel for the first time on an El Al flight from Bucharest to Tel Aviv. As a child I had learned about Israel in Sunday School and had studied the language in Hebrew School. In high school I was in a group that did Israeli folk dancing. After the Six-Day War I received a record with songs in Hebrew that I listened to over and over even though I barely understood a word, but despite all this exposure, I don’t remember wanting to go there. It was after college that I decided to go, and here I was on the Israeli airline being served lunch which included, of all things, a small jelly doughnut. What?? This was a new one on me, especially when the flight attendant told me it was for Chanukah.
Chanukah is a historical holiday that commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the Syrian-Greek army in the second century B.C.E. Surviving the destruction was one small flask of oil that could be used to light the Temple’s Great Menorah (oil lamp) for one day, but miraculously it lasted for eight days. To commemorate the miracle, we light candles for eight nights and eat foods fried in oil. I had grown up with latkes, potato pancakes fried until crispy and served with sour cream and applesauce. Now I’d found out that in Israel it was customary to eat sufganiyot, Hebrew for jelly doughnuts. The one on the flight was no match for Edlen’s, but since when have airlines been known for their great cuisine?
Once I got to Israel, there were sufganiyot everywhere that were fresh and delicious and gave Edlen’s some stiff competition. Sometimes I was invited to a home where they made their own and served them straight from the fryer into some powdered sugar. Wow! After nine years living in Israel, I moved back to the U.S. where I lived in an area far from the urban centers with large Jewish populations, so I did what I had to do and made my own sufganiyot. It became a Chanukah tradition to make them and invite people over, especially my son’s first grade teacher and her family who were Jewish. Once my kids were older and out on their own, I stopped making the extra effort and went back to potato pancakes.
It’s been years since I was in Israel for Chanukah, a winter holiday, since we go for the spring and fall holidays when my daughter and her family have time off from work and school. On our last autumn visit before COVID, I went to the supermarket in about mid-October and saw large trays of sufganiyot. It was weird to see them several months before the holiday, but I couldn’t resist and took a few home. My daughter shared my sneaking suspicion that Israel was taking yet another step toward the U.S. commercial model where Halloween candy is in stores well before Halloween and a day later out comes the Christmas merch. We left a few days later and had to cancel our next visit due to COVID, so I never thought to ask if sufganiyot continue to be available two months early or if there was a hue and cry to keep them connected to the eight days of Chanukah. One thing I do know is that I’m psyching myself up to make them this year instead of buying cold ones.
Krispy Kreme, you got nothing on me.
Deborah Appel has lived in Burien for 15 years and loves walking, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.