Latkes and Lo Mein
December 13, 2011 · 5:39 PM
Nothing says the Christmas like an egg roll and fried rice.
On Dec. 25, when many in the area will celebrate as Christians with extensive and traditional holiday dinners, many in Bremerton's Jewish community will take their meal from a Chinese restaurant, according to Rabbi Sarah Newmark of Congregation Beth Hatikvah.
Ning Li, owner of China Wok on N. Callow Avenue., said that she has a steady customer flow on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but that she did not actually know of the Jewish tradition for the food she serves.
In strong Jewish populations such as New York City or Chicago it's a given thing that the Chinese restaurant owners expect the Jews on Christmas, Newmark said. After moving to Bremerton she found Chinese restaurants closed for Christmas.
"I was scandalized!" Newmark said.
Alan Tolar has been delivering food for China Wok for 10 years. He said there is an increase in delivery orders on Christmas, but figured that the tradition came from the 1983 movie "A Christmas Story" because Ralphie eats his Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant.
"I didn't know it was a Jewish thing," Tolar said.
"Stores aren't open on Christmas. People are all inside cooking and opening presents. But I get customers, many white customers and regulars," said Li.
Sure, it's a bit tongue-in-cheek as traditions go, but it has been passed down starting with Jewish immigrants from the 1920s, Newmark said.
The tradition grew out of a past when everything closed because most Christians were at home with their families. The streets were empty back then, but most Chinese food restaurants were open. You saw every single person you knew from the synagogue, Newmark said.
"We all had the same idea," Newmark said.
Hanukkah, the eight-day celebration of the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, usually falls between late November and early December on a secular calendar. The date shifts every year starting on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar.
This year, the Jewish high holy days were late, coming in at the end of September, which pushes the first day of Hanukkah to Dec. 20.
For the first time since 2008, the celebration will overlap with Christmas Day.
"Usually we're done by now. And we're on to something completely different while the rest of the world is still shopping for Christmas gifts," said Newmark.
With the synagogue at a loss for food on the fifth night of their Hanukkah celebration this year, which falls on Christmas Eve, Newmark quipped, "Well, we could always just go get Chinese food." She was met with an enthusiastic response and "Latkes and Lo Mein," was born in Bremerton.
Instead of all going out and flooding separate restaurants, the temple will gather for a bounty of Chinese food delivered right to their synagogue.
The night will also feature traditional Jewish holiday foods, fried of course, dreidel games, and a Jewish movie night.
Newmark said this event approximates the activities of urban Jewish communities.
Kitsap County has a scattered Jewish population, according to the Rabbi. Congregants of Beth Hatikvah travel from Port Orchard, Belfair, Seabeck, and "other places you wouldn't think." Their numbers sometimes fluctuate with the arrival and departure of Jewish families in the Navy, according to Newmark.
Chinese food is appealing for reasons beyond the tradition. The ingredients easily translate into a kosher diet. It's very easy to make kosher for a are vegetarian and gilled fish diet, she said.
"Chinese food is easy," Newmark said. "It's easy to maintain the dietary co