A Hanukkah drive-thru: Jewish community members get their sufganiyot, latkes to go

  • As part of Congregation B’nai Israel’s Hanukkah drive-thru in Northampton, the Holyoke Hummus Company food truck brought 600 sufganiyot donuts and 600 latkes. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI 

  • A fresh-made sufganiyot (jelly doughnut) sits pretty on a plate Sunday at the Holyoke Hummus Company kitchen in Holyoke. Sufganiyot are a staple at Hanukkah celebrations around the world. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI  

  • Anne Thalheimer, center, from Holyoke, fills a batch of sufganiyot Hanukkah doughnuts while Dan Battat, from Springfield, bags the orders for a Hanukkah drive-thru, Sunday at the Holyoke Hummus Company kitchen in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Holyoke Hummus Company employee Anne Thalheimer, from Holyoke, dusts a fresh batch of sufganiyot jelly doughnuts with powdered sugar Sunday in Holyoke. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

  • Holyoke Hummus Company employee Dan Battat, from Springfield, brings a tray of sufganiyot dough to be filled, dusted and packaged in preparation for a Hanukkah drive-thru celebration in Northampton. Photographed Sunday in the catering company’s Holyoke kitchen. FOR THE GAZETTE/SABATO VISCONTI

For the Gazette
Published: 12/8/2020 4:08:34 PM

NORTHAMPTON – When Hanukkah starts this Thursday, it won’t be with the usual party and gathering ’round the table for many families. So how do you prepare to celebrate the Festival of Lights during lockdown? For some Jewish community members, the answer was social distancing from the safety of their vehicles. Congregation B’nai Israel (CBI) partnered with Holyoke Hummus Company to host a first-ever Hanukkah drive-thru on Sunday.

Cars lined up in the synagogue’s parking lot to pick up holiday gift bags filled with candles, gelt and dreidels, as well as orders of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and latkes (fried potato pancakes) made by the catering company, which normally serves up falafel, hummus and other Middle Eastern dishes. For Hanukkah, CBI plans to hand out up to 300 gift bags, while over the weekend Holyoke Hummus Company took orders for around 600 sufganiyot and 600 latkes.

Holyoke Hummus Company co-owner John Grossman and two employees spent Sunday morning frying up the sufganiyot in their kitchen in the Paper City. Grossman prepared the dough, rolling it out and cutting it up into squares for frying, while Anne Thalheimer, from Holyoke, and Dan Battat, from Springfield, worked to the sound of Hanukkah-themed pop music covers by The Maccabeats, taking turns filling doughnuts with jelly, dusting them with powdered sugar and bagging them by the half dozen. 

Making 600 jelly doughnuts from scratch in a single morning was a challenge. “The sufganiyot really need to be freshly made,” Grossman said. “Each step goes kind of quickly, but each step has to happen, so it’s all about getting the assembly line going.” While the team of three dedicated the morning to making the sufganiyot, readying the latkes was less of a hassle, as they are already a fixture on the Holyoke Hummus Company food truck menu. Dozens of trays filled with latkes awaited delivery in what Grossman calls the “Walken Fridge,” a walk-in refrigerator adorned with the face of actor Christopher Walken.

Last year, Congregation B’nai Israel hosted an outdoor doughnut-frying event, and Holyoke Hummus Company threw their own Hanukkah party. But since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, synagogues across the country have had to close, reduce services, scale back celebrations and rethink how they can best serve their communities.

CBI’s Assistant Director of Jewish Life Molly Bajgot, who organized the Hanukkah drive-thru event, noted that the synagogue hosted a similar drive-thru for the Jewish High Holidays. “People were signing up for services on Zoom, and we wanted to get them the prayer books that they would have in the sanctuary, so we set up a drive-thru where folks pulled up and received a High Holy Day gift bag,” Bajgot said. In addition to prayer books, “people could also pick up shofars, people could pick up Challah that was made by our bakers.” The High Holy Day drive-thru proved to be a successful and safe way to reconnect with the community, so Bajgot used it as a template for the Hanukkah drive-thru. 

This time, CBI turned to congregant John Grossman, who has brought his Holyoke Hummus Company food truck to CBI events in the past. “I reached out to John and asked him if he would be open to it,” Bajgot said, “and he was like, ‘That sounds like a good time, and anything that sounds like a good time these days is worth doing.’”

Creativity is key, but community safety remains a top priority for CBI. “Our COVID task force has asked us that we really encourage folks to stay in their cars for this drive-thru,” Bajgot said, “and we ordered grabbers so we are not reaching into people’s cars but can hand things to them from a few feet away with these plastic tools.”

In a year with so many events canceled, any connection or feeling of kinship helps. “People started talking about this kind of feeling with Thanksgiving,” Grossman said, but “for Jews, lockdown started with Passover, and since then we’ve had Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and other holidays, so we’ve been figuring out Zoom holidays and grieving that loss of family, of community connection, since the beginning of lockdown.”

Dining restrictions have forced Grossman to close down his Holyoke location to the public. In the meantime, he is taking his Holyoke Hummus Company food truck to downtown Northampton during the week, and he looks forward to the few events that do come up.

“Anybody who can organize or compose any kind of an event where people get to celebrate or be together or share in a safe way … we just love those opportunities,” he said. “They are so few and far between.”

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