In much of the world, latkes play no role in Hanukkah. Hard to imagine, right? Here’s one of my very favorite Hanukkah songs, a Greek Jewish one called Kita’l Tas.
Greek? you ask. Sounds like Spanish. Yes, it does sound like Spanish because the language it is in is Ladino, sometimes called Judeo-Espagnol. Ladino is to Spanish what Yiddish is to German.
And there lies a thought. When you hear Theodore Bikel singing “Oh Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,” do you feel a feeling of home? Is it haimish to you? But, why? Basically, Yiddish is German, not something particularly Jewish. So, too, Ladino is basically Spanish, also not particularly Jewish. I’m sure for some Jews, Kita’l Tas gives them a feeling of home.
There’s an inescapable sadness for anyone who is interested in Jewish culture, whether it be music, or food, or language, literature or art. All the cultures that we made homey–by participating in them but also adding our own touch, e.g. Hebrew to Spanish or German–are gone! Ladino–gone!–since the Jews were expelled from Spain. Yiddish–gone!–since the decimation of German Jews. Judeo-Arabic–gone!–since the 20th c exodus of Jews from Arab lands. Sometimes, when I read a global Jewish cookbook, I find myself in tears, in remembrance of cultures lost.
We can dwell a little bit in these lost Jewish homes, though, by learning about them. Here’s Voice of the Turtle’s terrific rendition of Kita’l Tas. There are no German-style potato pancakes in it but instead the fried dough treat called burmuelos. The miracle of light, it’s important to say, followed and accompanied Jews all over the world. This post is dedicated to the memory of my aunt, Beatrice Gundle, who was interested in Jewish cultures before I knew that I was going to be.