• Michelle Sangster

“Chicagoans” is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

“When I was growing up, my grandmother made latkes every year with a grater and a pan, none of this pre-made stuff. We wouldn’t wait to get a plate; we would just take a napkin and take them right out of the pan. The tradition is to eat them either with applesauce or sour cream, but my sister and I got creative. I would eat them with ketchup—basically, a latke is a round french fry—and my sister liked them with mayonnaise.

“Dreidel is a fun game for kids, but as you get older, you realize no one ever really wins. I don’t know if you know what Beyblades are. It’s a competition game where you spin tops in a little bowl, and whoever knocks the other one down wins. Well, we were doing that years ago with dreidels. We would have, like, demolition dreidel.

“Actually, dreidel was never meant to be a game. During the time of the persecution that the Jews underwent in the ancient Middle East, the study of Torah was banned. So children would sit around studying, and they’d have a lookout posted, and when the Roman centurion came by, they’d take out their dreidel and say, ‘We’re not learning; we’re gambling.’ Having children learn how to gamble was perfectly fine.

“My kid loves Hanukkah. Last year, after the last night of Hanukkah, I hadn’t put the menorah away yet. He comes out and stands in front of it expectantly, waiting with big puppy-dog eyes for me to light the candles. I’m like, ‘Oh, all right, we’ll light ’em one more night.’ So we light the candles, and then we put the menorah away. And then the next night, he comes out and stands in front of the empty table, waiting.

“I have several problems with ‘The Dreidel Song.’ One, it misrepresents the dreidel. I’ve never made a dreidel out of clay. No one I know has ever made a dreidel out of clay. Mostly they’re plastic. But the real reason I don’t like that song is, it’s the one Hanukkah song we learn as kids, and then no one ever bothers to learn another one. Every year I hear: ‘All these Jewish people wrote Christmas songs. Why didn’t they write any Hanukkah songs?’ They did. You just don’t know about them. It’s not that hard to find Hanukkah music that doesn’t suck. There’s one great song called ‘Ocho Kandelikas.’ Another one is ‘Mi Ymalel.’ And there’s an album called Reggae Hanukkah, which is fantastic.

“As small a minority as we are, it’s nice to be noticed. I grew up watching the same thing everybody watched: the Charlie Brown Christmas special. But once in a while, a message would come on the screen saying, ‘A happy Hanukkah to all our Jewish viewers.’ I thought that was really nice. The fact that every desk calendar at Walgreens has Passover and Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah on it, that’s nice. Even the Daley Center has a giant menorah. Not as giant as the Christmas tree, but if it was too tall, you couldn’t light it.”