As Chanukah approaches, I'd like to share with you an original story that I wrote two years ago while Director of Education at Central Synagogue. I told this story at Friday night services as a lead in to the students in the 4th and 5th grades singing Debbie Friedman's "Not By Might." It is the story of Simon Maccabee, a lesser-known Maccabee sibling. Here is an excerpt:
I think most of us here know about Judah Maccabee . . . but not so many people have heard about his brother, Simon Maccabee. We don’t know a whole lot about him, but I think I remember hearing somewhere that Simon was a 4th or 5th grade teacher.The entire text is after the jump. Please feel free to pass it along and to retell it in your own words.
Simon wasn’t a great fighter, but he loved to cook. Each morning he would fry up some mighty tasty latkes. When his brothers would come home in the evening, they always had new people with them who had decided to join in the fight against the Syrians
. . . Soon, Simon was getting up earlier and earlier to peel the potatoes and fry up the onions, and long lines of soldiers would wait for the mighty tasty latkes. Simon started to arrive later for work and his students would all wait impatiently for him to begin his lessons.
The Story of Simon Maccabee
I think most of us here know about Judah Maccabee . . . but not so many people have heard about his brother, Simon Maccabee. We don’t know a whole lot about him, but I think I remember hearing somewhere that Simon was a 4th or 5th grade teacher.
Simon wasn’t a great fighter, but he loved to cook. Each morning he would fry up some mighty tasty latkes. His brothers would take them with them as they went off to battle – and Simon would go to work. “Remember, my students,” he would always say, “we’re fighting a war to remember who we are and what it means to be Jewish!”
When his brothers would come home in the evening, they always had new people with them who had decided to join in the fight against the Syrians. And they all had tasted Simon’s mighty tasty latkes. So when Simon would get up the next morning, he’d fry up even more latkes than the day before. “These latkes have a special flavor” they would say. “I don’t know what it is, but when I taste these latkes, I just feel stronger! What is your secret ingredient?” They would ask.
“Ah,” said Simon, “the secret ingredient is hope. As I make these latkes, I think to myself, ‘I hope these latkes will give the soldiers the strength to fight!” “Fantastic!” the soldiers would say, and they would go off to battle rubbing their bellies.
Soon, Simon was getting up earlier and earlier to peel the potatoes and fry up the onions, and long lines of soldiers would wait for the mighty tasty latkes. Simon started to arrive later for work and his students would all wait impatiently for him to begin his lessons. “Remember, my students,” he would always say, “we’re fighting a war to remember who we are and what it means to be Jewish!” And then he would start to doze off from not getting enough sleep, and his students would have to wake him up!
Still the lines were growing longer and longer. There were more soldiers than ever before – even though they still seemed a tiny number compared to the Syrian army. “We want those mighty tasty latkes!” the soldiers would shout. And Simon would get up even earlier to peel the potatoes and fry up the latkes, until he hardly was sleeping at all at night. “These latkes are so delicious!” the soldiers would cheer, “what is the secret ingredient you’re putting in them to make them so tasty!”
“It is dedication,” Simon would answer. “Every morning, when I have to get up early, I think to myself how important your battles are, and it gives me the strength to make more and more latkes every day.” “Amazing!” the soldiers would shout. “Your dedication is an inspiration,” and they would go off to battle rubbing their full bellies.
But Simon was getting more and more tired at work. By now, he wouldn’t even go in to the school house – the students would come and do lessons in Simon’s kitchen, sitting on big stacks of onions, doing word problems about the numbers of potatoes used make a batch of latkes and how much oil they had to use. Like, “If five Maccabees can eat 25 latkes in 2 days, how many latkes can 250 Maccabees eat in 20 days?”
Sometimes, Simon would fall asleep in the middle of teaching a lesson! “Remember, my students,” he would say, “we’re fighting a warzmry zzmramrmm zzzzzzzzzz.” And he would start to snore, as the students carefully covered him with a quilt and quietly played games of dreidl and Hebrew bingo.
Finally, one night as Simon was finishing his lessons, soldiers were already starting to line up by his kitchen window for the next day’s mighty tasty latkes. And they had such specific needs! This one wanted the latkes with applesauce, and that one with sour cream, and another wanted to know “can you tell me if you use peanut oil to fry the latkes?” And someone else asked, “are these latkes low-carb?”
As the sky grew dark, Simon wearily started peeling the potatoes without even going to sleep, but before he had even peeled a dozen potatoes he fell fast asleep with his head on a pile of onions.
And while Simon slept, he had a wonderful dream, in which potatoes were peeling themselves, and onions were frying up in the pan on their own. . . and in his dream he could smell the delicious flavor of the mighty tasty latkes, and hear the joyful shouts of Maccabee soldiers shouting “more latkes . . . more tasty latkes!”
Suddenly, Simon woke with a start – the sun was already up! “Oh no,” he cried, “what will everyone eat?” But he looked, and to his amazement, all of the soldiers were smiling and laughing and rubbing their bellies. “What miracle is this?” Simon cried, and then he suddenly spied all of his 4th and 5th grade students gathered around him.
“We made the latkes!” they cried, “We made them just as you taught us to make them! We made the latkes while you slept on the onions!”
And all the soldiers cheered, and shouted “all of the latkes before have been mighty tasty, but these are the tastiest latkes of all. What is the secret ingredient that makes these latkes so delicious?”
And so I ask you, sitting here tonight, what was it that made that last batch of latkes so delicious? Was it because it was made by the children? Was it because they didn’t wake Simon, but made them all on their own? Was it because they all worked together to make the latkes? Was it because they were low-carb?
We may never know, but I do know this: On that day the Maccabee soldiers went off with more spirit – RUACH - than ever before, and it was that day that the Maccabee soldiers arrived at the Temple in Jerusalem and defeated the powerful Syrian army. And to this day, we celebrate Chanukah by eating mighty tasty latkes, and we say thanks for our children who are the real reason that we celebrate Chanukah.