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| A Trio of Personal Holidays

Viva Hanukkah

Potato Latkes Are Delicious With a Little Salsa

November 11, 2001|MARTIN BOOE

If Dr. Hogly Wogly's Tyler Texas BBQ in Van Nuys had been willing to sell her an entire brisket that fateful year, Feris Greenberger's Mexican Hanukkah might never have happened.

It was 1997, and Greenberger, her sister, Romy Longwell, and their brother, Stuart Green, were mourning the recent passing of their mother, a "party-giver extraordinaire." Hosting the family Hanukkah party for the first time with help from Longwell, Greenberger felt that emulating their mother's lavish spread would hit a false note. "I just didn't feel like cooking the whole meal," she says. "Potato latkes, yes; dinner, no."

Spurned by Dr. Hogly Wogly's, Greenberger turned to the Poquito Mas restaurant in Burbank and ordered up a batch of burritos, tacos and enchiladas to serve alongside the traditional latkes--which, those present agreed, benefited considerably from a dollop of hot salsa--and a holiday tradition was born. "The next year I told everybody I was going to do the traditional brisket," says Greenberger, an attorney who lives in Toluca Lake with her husband, law professor David Dolinko. "[But] they all kind of whined and said, 'You mean we're not going to have Mexican food?' "

Mexican cuisine complements the Hanukkah tradition of serving fried food, Greenberger notes, but more important, she and her sister like how mixing up cultural influences reflects the diversity of their extended family. "My brother and sister and I are 100% European Jews," Longwell says, "and Feris is really the only one who married within the faith. Our cousins, who grew up in our house, are half Italian. Our cousin Debbie's husband, Frank Marquez, is Mexican. My husband is a big, blond atheist and my sister-in-law is a Catholic, so we have a little of everything."

The family doesn't go overboard with the Mexican theme, but a few refinements have been added over the years. One is Corona beer. Another is a pi-ata shaped like a dreidel filled with Hanukkah gelts, which are gold-foiled chocolate coins (Greenberger was surprised to find dreidel-shaped pi-atas available "just about anywhere").

The party starts in the late afternoon on a weekend during the eight-day Hanukkah holiday. When evening comes, the group lights menorahs--"including the one my grandfather brought from Germany, which should probably be in a museum but is probably happier being used," Greenberger says. "Everyone brings presents, and after the menorahs are lit, it's time to exchange gifts, and then it's a riot of paper-tearing and thank yous."

Friends invited for the first time have a way of becoming annual guests; last year saw about 25 family members, friends and their kids in attendance. "To me it's very American," Longwell says. "We have so many friends of different races, and I think it's what America's all about. I know that's something my grandfather from Germany would approve of. He was very proud to be an American."

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