The Great Hamentaschen Debate

Hamantasch backgroundTWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED years ago, Haman, an advisor to the Persian King Ahasuerus, tried to kill all the Jews. Thankfully, we survived. And, at the end of February 2018 A.D., we will celebrate our survival during the holiday of Purim. The Megillah (Book of Esther) will be read. Groggers (noisemakers) will shake. And we will eat triangular cookies called Hamentaschen (in Yiddish, Hamantaschen literally translates to “Haman’s pockets”).

“Cookies?” you say. Yes, for some, Hamentaschen are meant to be cookie-like. Yet others prefer those that are more like a bread or pastry. Hard like biscotti? Whatever you prefer. There are Hamentaschen for all stripes and flavors.

Flavors. Well, here is where there is real diversity. There are classic jelly fillings like strawberry and apricot and, my personal favorite, poppy seed. In fact, a slight variation of the word Hamantaschen, ha-mohn-taschen, literally translates to “the poppy seed pockets.” More modern approaches fill them with chocolate, peanut butter, or even go towards the savory with onions and goat cheese.

Now, if you’ve ever made Hamentaschen from scratch, you know it is a labor of love – emphasis on the labor. Make the dough. Roll the dough. Cut into circles. Add the filling. Pinch the corners. Bake. Repeat.

There are shortcuts, of course. You can improvise with a tube of store-bought cookie dough. Or you can buy them from your local bakery. Hamentaschen are now so mainstream that I’ve even seen them at Whole Foods year-round. Maybe Hamentaschen are the next bagel?

Here’s the thing though: It’s not about the Hamentaschen. It’s about the importance of the tradition. Tradition that connects us to our family, our history, our people.

If you have time to get creative and make Hamentaschen at home with your kids or grandkids, fantastic. If you pick them up at OC Kosher Market, that works too. Maybe your toddler comes home from the temple preschool with a misshapen, over-floured mess. It doesn’t matter. It’s the memories and feelings that the flavors and the shape of Hamentaschen evoke. It’s the tradition of our people and our community. And it’s an opportunity to celebrate survival and the strength of the Jewish people.

Wherever and however you celebrate Purim, may it be filled with meaning. And maybe some poppy seeds for good measure.

Editor’s Note: Please note that the version of this article that appeared in the February 2018 print issue of the magazine wrongly named Haman as “a Persian king” as opposed to “an advisor to the Persian King Ahasuerus.” Please excuse the error.

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