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Area Notables Recall Memorable Chanukahs
Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t sign off on the plan.
“We got caught in a blizzard on the Maine Turnpike unlike anything any of us had ever seen,” recalled Lindy Snider, who grew up to become founder and chief executive officer of Lindi LLC, which specializes in skin care products for cancer patients.
“The turnpike had to be closed, so we couldn’t get to our house,” she continued. “We basically were in the middle of nowhere, and Dad went knocking on doors of bed and breakfasts until he was able to find one that would let us in.”
Dad was — and is — Flyers owner and Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider.
“Anyway, we were feeling pretty sorry for ourselves,” she admitted. “Instead of having our Chanukah celebration, we were stranded in the middle of this insane blizzard. However, the man who owned the bed and breakfast was determined to cheer us up.
“When we woke up the next morning, at the foot of each kid’s bed was a little pouch of candies and chocolates, tied at the top with a ribbon. He had to have had the items on hand, because everyone was snowed in.”
“What a wonderful gesture,” added Snider, a Bryn Mawr resident. “It was just a little thing, but it had so much meaning. To this day, I consider it the most special and memorable gift I ever received.”
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s warmest recollections of Chanukah were formed without leaving her home. When her sons, who are now adults, were young, Schwartz began what evolved into a Chanukah tradition by hosting a latke cook-off for family and friends.
“We’d invite 50 or 60 people, and everyone would bring homemade latkes,” said Schwartz, a Jenkintown resident who has represented Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District since 2005. “Everyone would taste the latkes without knowing which latke belonged to which guest. We’d judge the latkes based on criteria such as taste, texture and appearance, and we’d give prizes to the latkes that received the highest scores.
“As Chanukah was approaching, the discussions would begin. Should my latkes be crispy? Should I make them saltier than I made them last year? It was so much fun for everyone and such a great way to bring generations together for a holiday celebration.
“I’d make dinner, but hardly anyone seemed to notice. My family was no different. In fact, one year, my husband,” she says of Dr. David Schwartz, “made the winning latkes, and we were just incredibly excited.”
Then, there was the time that uninitiated guests arrived at the gathering with store-bought latkes.
“Needless to say, we had a bit of fun at their expense,” Schwartz said, giggling.
The latke party hasn’t been held for several years, but Schwartz, who has announced her candidacy to become governor of Pennsylvania, remains hopeful that it eventually will be revived.
“It was a labor of love,” she said, “not just for me, but for everyone who was part of it.”
Another elected official from Montgomery County, Abington resident Josh Shapiro, has vivid memories of putting the menorah on display and knowing that the family would be together each night of Chanukah.
“My folks did a great job of making sure there was meaning to the holiday, and that it wasn’t just about gifts,” said Shapiro, who represented the 153rd Legislative District in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 2005 to 2012 before his election as chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.
“While we knew and sang the words to ‘Ma’oz Tzur,’ it was always fun to hear my dad sing it in English. Invariably, he would change up some words, and it was never quite the same rendition each night,” he says of prominent pediatrician Dr. Steve Shapiro.
Amy Sichel, superintendent of the Abington School District and president of the American Association of School Administrators, also closely identifies the Chanukah celebration with music.
One of Sichel’s earliest childhood memories of the holiday is reciting the traditional blessings, along with her parents and younger brother, while lighting the menorah, then taking part in a Chanukah medley.
“My mother would sing, ‘Oh Chanukah, Oh Chanukah,’ after which my brother and I eagerly added, ‘Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.’ Now, flash 30 or so years later,” she went on. “I have my own family, and I’m singing to our two daughters, who were in preschool at the time. After singing ‘Oh Chanukah, Oh Chanukah’ and ‘The Dreidel Song,’ my daughters started to sing, ‘Mama’s little baby loves lotsa latkes…’ Then, my husband [Buzz[ says that in his house, the family sang ‘Rock of Ages,’ so we sang that as well.
“My daughters,” she says of Dana Katz and Kelly Mule, “are 28 and 31 now, and the Chanukah medley still has a great deal of meaning to our family. The seeds for this tradition were planted more than 80 years ago, when my mother was a child, and some day, when my daughters have children of their own, we’ll probably be adding a new song for Chanukah.”
Sichel pointed out that the enjoyment comes not from the quality of her family’s performance but from the quality of her family’s holiday tradition.
“With our voices, nobody will be asking us to join a rock band or an opera,” she related. “But we’ve had fun with our medley for many, many years, and that’s what’s most important.”
Matt Schuman is an area writer. This article originally appeared in a special section, "Chanukah Gift Guide."