NORMAN — A lighted menorah or spinning dreidel are each common symbols of Hanukkah.
However, an edible treat recently signaled the Jewish holiday's arrival on the University of Oklahoma campus.
Latkes — lots of them — were the main course at “Latkes for Love,” a fundraiser recently held by the OU Hillel Foundation, 494 Elm Ave., in conjunction with the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi.
Organizers said about 2,500 latkes were made for the annual gathering on Nov. 29.
Latkes are potato pancakes fried in oil and traditionally eaten during Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights, which begins at sundown Saturday.
Several “Latkes for Love” organizers said the event has a twofold mission, first and foremost to raise money for worthwhile charities. These include Sharsheret, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the special concerns of Jewish women with breast cancer, and Save a Child's Heart, an Israeli-based international humanitarian program that provides pediatric heart surgery for poor children.
Jake Fuller, 21, an OU senior from Dallas, said the fundraiser also is a festive way for Jewish students to share a bit of Jewish culture with individuals who may know very little about it.
“We give them Israeli culture because we're some of the first Jews that many of these kids have ever met,” said Fuller, who served as chairman of the event.
Jonathan Wille, 21, an OU senior from Freehold, N.J., shared similar sentiments.
“People who live here have very little exposure to Jewish culture,” Wille said. “Fraternities in general do lots of philanthropic things and ‘Latkes for Love' is a great tradition. At it's core it's latkes and people.”
Rebekah Martin, 22, an OU senior from Norman, is student president of the OU Hillel Foundation. She said the annual event is a good time to spread the word about Hanukkah favorites like latkes. She said she is often asked to describe latkes.
“I say they are hash browns on steroids,” she said, smiling.
Martin and Fuller said latkes are traditionally made from potatoes, flour, eggs, onions, salt and pepper. The students said latkes and other foods fried in oil like doughnuts are traditionally eaten during Hanukkah to celebrate the “miracle of the oil.”
Hanukkah commemorates the victory of a band of Jews, the Maccabees, against Greek-Syrian occupiers in 165 B.C. and the rededication of the Jewish Temple. When the Maccabees reclaimed the temple from their oppressors, they wanted to light the eternal light, known as the N'er Tamid, which is in every Jewish house of worship. According to tradition, once lit, the oil lamp should never be extinguished, but the Maccabees had only enough oil for one day.
During Hanukkah, people celebrate the miracle that the lamp stayed lit for eight days with only the small amount of oil that remained.
As part of “Latkes for Love,” guests paid one price and were treated to all the latkes they could eat. Event organizers gave visitors several items to place atop their latkes, including traditional toppings like apple sauce and sour cream as well as nontraditional toppers like ketchup, hot fudge and ranch salad dressing.
Meanwhile, the students doing the cooking in the kitchen were a lively crew, showing off their mastery of latke-making with lots of pride.
Matthew Lorch, 22, an OU senior from Los Angeles, said he watched his mother make latkes for years. He said memories of her holiday cooking sessions came to his aid when he began making latkes for the annual charity event.
“I had watched my mom and then experimented on my own,” Lorch said. “Several burn injuries later, I'm able to make them.”
Zachary Evilsizer, 22, an OU senior from Yukon, said “Latkes for Love” included sweet potato latkes and matzo ball soup in previous years and he helped make such treats. He said this year's cooks and organizers decided to keep things simple by offering a main course of traditional latkes and Israeli salad, a mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.
OU freshman Tanner Lurie, 18, of Dallas, said he and the other latke cooks worked over a two-day period to make the potato pancakes. They continued putting their frying pans to use as the fundraiser got under way.
Yonatan Schmidt, 22, a freshman from Jerusalem, said he liked the charity event because it helped promote Judaism and supports important causes.
“It shows people that we're here. Even though we're small, we're here and we're growing,” he said.
“Plus, it's for a good cause. I'm thankful to everyone who comes and opens their hearts and wallets.”