A web tour of gelt, gifts and Chocolate

By MARK MIETKIEWICZ, Special to the Jewish Light

It’s one of the most popular traditions of one of the most well known holidays of the year. But the reasons behind the giving of Hanukkah gelt can leave most people scratching their heads. Today some Hanukkah gelt explanations.

There is a direct connection between gelt and Hanukkah, according to the Jewish Outreach Institute. After the Temple was recaptured, the Jewish population was able to mint coins as an expression of their newly won independence. Centuries later, the State of Israel revived a similar tradition. “In a brilliantly conceived move to link the modern world with the ancient history of our people, the first Hanukkah coin portrayed exactly the same menorah that had appeared on the Last Maccabean coins of Antigonus Matityahu, 1,998 years earlier.” [visit http://bit.ly/cgelt12 for more information]

You can view drawings of antique coins on the American Israel Numismatic Association website [http://bit.ly/cgelt11] and the lovely, modern variations minted by the State of Israel. [http://bit.ly/cgelt13]

Tina Wasserman explains that linguistically, Hanukkah is “related to chinukh, which means education. Perhaps for this reason, some Jewish communities chose Hanukkah as the time to celebrate the freedom to be educated Jewishly. Maimonides made the education-gelt connection when he described Hanukkah gelt as ‘an incentive for you [children] to study Torah properly.'” [http://bit.ly/cgelt14]

Eliezer Siegel explains that in 18th-century Eastern Europe, rabbis would tour outlying villages during Hanukkah to strengthen the townsfolk’s Jewish education. Initially, these rabbis would decline payment. But eventually they would accept tokens of appreciation for lost time. In time, these gifts or gelt because almost obligatory to the rabbis, to other pillars of the community, and then in the 19th century, to children. Other traditions of giving coins or small gifts to kids have also been found in Persia, Yemen and pre-State of Israel Palestine. Siegel adds, “Needless to say, an immense gulf separates the customs described here from the shopping frenzy that is associated with the North American Hanukkah.” [http://bit.ly/cgelt15]

Nowadays, most gelt exchanged at Hanukkah isn’t made of gold or silver but of chocolate. Many fond memories are wrapped up in mesh bags of foil-covered coins care of Israel’s Elite chocolate company. [http://bit.ly/cgelt16] For the homemade touch, why not mint your own chocolate coins – with a hint of mint? [http://bit.ly/cgelt22]

But for some authenticity, how about a batch of Hanukkah Gelt Cookies? But be careful because these treats have REAL gelt inside. [http://bit.ly/cgelt17] Not decadent enough? Then whip up a Hanukkah Gelt Double Fudge Chocolate Layer Cake. [http://bit.ly/cgelt18]

Speaking of decadence, in reframing Hanukkah gelt, Rabbi Goldie Milgram puts a new slant on holiday giving and receiving. She suggests that you gather up all the tzedakah boxes bursting with coins in your home, and pull out a check book, too. On one of the nights of the holiday, invite a few friends over and let each suggest worthy charities for all that gelt. Be generous. And meet again next year (or even sooner). [http://bit.ly/cgelt19]

On a similar note, Got gelt? A conversation about giving in this season of receiving is a classroom-based exercise that asks students to view themselves as philanthropists and to articulate how they make decisions about where to give tzedakah. [http://bit.ly/cgelt20]

If you want to make the kids work for their gelt, here are suggestions for holding a Hide the Gelt game. [http://bit.ly/cgelt23] If that sounds like a bit too much exertion, you can search for the gelt right on your computer screen. [http://bit.ly/cgelt26]

You can be sure that gelt has claimed its own niche in popular culture when Martha Stewart offers tips for creating Hanukkah Gelt Bags. [http://bit.ly/cgelt24] No word on whether that’s where Martha keeps hers.

While you’re puttering in the kitchen, you may want to have to some music get you in the festive mood. Enjoy the New York klezmer band, the Klezmatics, perform a very lively version of “Hanuka Gelt.” [http://bit.ly/cgelt25]

Far be it from me to proclaim that any holiday food could be considered sacrilegious but I did do a double-take when I came across one particular gelt coin recipe. Instead of chocolate and sugar, it calls for cheddar cheese and Worcestershire sauce. If you feel like developing a new tradition with Hanukkah Cheese Gelt Coins, be my guest. [http://bit.ly/cgelt21]

I’m sticking with chocolate and foil.

Mark Mietkiewicz can be reached at [email protected].