By NORA EDINGER
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WHEELING – Hanukkah is not a particularly important event in Jewish life. Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Passover tend to be the headliners. But when Lisa Shats and her family moved to the city almost a decade ago in search of a better work-life balance, especially for her doctor husband, she said that a holiday that marked what made them different had become an ironic bond with the community.
The Shatse, now a family of four, are known for the vibrant Hanukkah celebrations whose treats range from matzo dumpling soup and latkes for 150 guests to husband, Dr. Daniel Shats, who cooks up Mediterranean classics like than 50-pound falafel or roast beef.
Not a family to object to a good big party, Shats said their whoop to do Hanukkah had a deeper purpose. Perhaps for several purposes.
“We don’t have blood from here,” Shats said of directly solving one of the challenges of moving comparatively solo to a city dominated by close family networks.
Indeed, they do not. Shats is the descendant of immigrants from Ellis Island who began their American life in New York. She grew up in Miami Beach and has also lived in urban centers such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. Her husband Daniel Shats – a regional gastroenterologist – is originally from Toronto, Ont., Where he emigrated from Russia with his parents when he was little.
Wheeling wasn’t even on their radar until it became clear that mixing a high pressure urban medical career with a family was more high pressure than they wanted. The couple and their son Gabe, a recent bar mitzvah boy who was a preschooler at the time, decided to try a brief internship here while considering a new path in life.
While driving Bethany Pike with a real estate agent, however, Shats was stunned at what they found. “Is there a temple?” Is there a country club? Is there a complex? she said she practically screamed as they traveled north of town. “I said ‘only three years’ and then we fell in love with it.”
FOOD AND FUN
Not to say that there were no adjustments. Having never lived outside a large population center, the couple went into a shock of ethnic and food depravity, Shats joked. Kind of.
“That’s why my husband pretty much became a chef,” Shats said with another laugh, curled up on a couch in an open plan kitchen and living room that, before COVID, was the center of their parties. “It’s everyday, a new cooking appliance arrives at home.
It wasn’t that long ago that it was a shawarma, she noted, adding that their parties tended to have themes in addition to traditional holiday treats such as latkes – which they are for. now depend on the frozen variety of Trader Joe’s after realizing that it is almost impossible to grate. enough potatoes for 150 guests.
Loaded with lamb, the revolving grill most often seen in restaurants revolving around the house, Shats laughed. “He was cutting it off and serving gyroscopes.”
Another time, when the fat from a 50-pound roast beef strayed into the oven, a warning system went off in the middle of the party. When the fire department arrived, “My husband, he said, ‘Come in, eat, have a drink.’
Shats said she gives out Hanukkah socks more often, works with a cartoonist or photo booth, or runs with a broomstick – her side of the culinary market and a necessity when the holidays get this big. “I’m cleaning up. It’s only fair, but he uses all the pots and all the utensils.
The way a new network of friends responded to the holidays helped solve a difficulty other than the family – which grew after the move to include her daughter Zoe, now 8 – found out, he said. -she adds.
“He (Wheeling) has a very small Jewish community,” Shats said, comparing his children’s experience to his in Miami Beach. There she grew up attending school with most of the other Jewish children (ironically, in a private school run by a Presbyterian church) and surrounded by a family that celebrated the same Jewish holidays.
The Shats realized that Wheeling is a Christmas town and it would likely leave their kids out of the way unless they decided to go the same way, but differently. “We thought, we’ve got the food thing,” so why not?
The fact that most of their guests were not Jewish was not a problem, Shats said of introducing foods, traditions such as dreidel spinning and gelt (often pieces of chocolate wrapped in gold foil) and even the decor.
Its holiday reserve – blue, white and silver in a nod to the Israeli flag – includes a Star of David and candles reminiscent of the oil lamp that sparkled the holidays and that was used in dedication and restoration. of the temple in Jerusalem about 2,200 years ago.
There is also a Mensch on a bench instead of an elf on a shelf.
Noting that she is stunned by the efforts of Christmas celebrants who move such elves around the house to entertain their children, Shats joked that the family’s mensch lived up to its name, which is in Yiddish. for a good, honorable person. “He comes out, he sits on the coat, that’s all.”
The guests – now friends – are livelier, she added. The Shats were touched, for example, when a new friend offered a book celebrating the differences, “Dear, Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein,” and another learned a Hebrew prayer to better engage with them. festivities.
And, beyond Hanukkah, Shats said they were amazed at how their new community reached out after the murder of 11 Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“It made me feel safe and I think it really matters in the day right now,” Shats said. “All you want to do is protect your kids… There’s no place or community like Wheeling, W.Va. You really can’t get that anywhere else.”
In turn, Shats – who considers her family more culturally Jewish than religious, even though they are active at Shalom Temple – said she was also trying to interpret their life path for the wider community. She is visiting her daughter’s elementary school to share information on holidays such as Chanukah, the 2021 celebration of which begins tonight and continues until sunset on December 6.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility… our responsibility as a Jewish people,” she said, noting that party foods and even something as simple as pieces of chocolate have tendency to erase cultural differences.
With that in mind, as their Hanukkah festivities are scaled back for a second year due to COVID, Shats said she believes her husband is already planning a way to bring even more to the table in 2022. That will likely include small, jelly-filled donuts called sufganiyah which are also traditional.
Ticking off the foods they’ve already thrown on the Wheeling party scene, Shats nodded resolutely, no doubt anticipating other kitchen gear along the way. “What else is there?”