Latkes, a potato dish with centuries of history and tradition fried inside.

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Potato pancakes are so much more than delicious. Within the flaky, golden crust is a history that spans to the Middle Ages. One important facet of history is its tie to Jewish culture.

“Europe during the Middle Ages, they weren’t very well off,” says Michele Beard, retired Major for the U.S. Air Force and member of the Synagogue of the Hills. “And so for them to celebrate, and observe eating fried foods this is probably one of the things that everybody could afford to do.”

Fried foods involve cooking with oil, and oil is a commemoration of the Hanukkah story. In short, the Maccabees, a rebel Jewish group in the 2nd century B.C.E. were fighting for their religious freedom. Their victory is remembered through the lighting of the menorah candles, each night for eight days. Those “miraculous” eight days were how long the menorah burned with only a small amount oil the group could find – so the story goes.

Latkes, menorahs and gelt (chocolate candies) are all traditions that keep the faith alive for the small congregation of Jewish people in the Black Hills.

“I think originally they used to make [latkes] out of buckwheat, before potatoes were in Europe,” said Beard. “The Jews would make them out of what of some sort with a vegetable in it. But fry them. That’s the big thing, frying it in oil. The other thing is, again, to remind us of the temple and the sacrifices that the Jewish  people made trying to get their religious freedom.”

Only a small group of people meet at the Synagogue of the Hills. They do not have an in-house Rabbi and typically a member of the group will lead services for Shabbat or other religious affairs.

Beard will host members at her home for Hanukkah and other celebrations. She will also share her traditions and stories with others who ask; not for the purpose of conversion but to keep her religion alive in a small Jewish community.

Synagogue of the Hills has a menorah at Main Street Square in Rapid City which is lit each night of Hanukkah – Dec. 22nd through Dec. 30th. These dates change every year just as the Jewish, Hebrew calendar does.

There will be a menorah lighting at Mt. Rushmore Dec. 29th at 2:30 p.m.

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