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December 12, 2014     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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December 12, 2014
 

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 12, 2014 " PAGE 15A By Edmon J. Rodman LOS ANGELES (JTA)-- What can a buck get you on Chanukah? Maybe agold mesh bag of chocolate coins or a lighter for your menorah. But Jewish continuity? At Chanukah time, when we get so wrapped up in gift giving, I propose that it's a single dollar of gee (Yiddish for money) that has the power to keep on giving beyond eight nights. Chanukah gelt referred originally in Europe and later America to coins given as gifts to children and adults. Today, gelt brings to mind the chocolate coins wrapped in gold and silver foil that come in a small mesh bag. But lately, gelt-wise, I've been thinking outside the bag and wondering why of all the Chanukah gifts that I received as a child, it is the shiny silver dollars given by my parents that I remember best. I never even spent them. Was something more than a dollar being given? When I was a teenager, and the silver dollars stopped and were replaced by clothes and books, I was surprised by how much I missed the holiday ritual of being handed a dollar. It wasn't until I was engaged that someone gave me one again. I had been invited to a family Chanukah party at the home of my fiance Bren- da's Sephardic grandmother, Grace Hasson, or as everyone called her, "Vava." Some three dozen rela- fives--aunts and uncles, cousins and their spouses-- crowded into a small living room. We said blessings for the candle lighting and sang songs before moving on to dinner. The feeling was nice, warm; nothing unusual. After dinner and some bunuelos--sugar-powdered fried bails of dough--some- one said it was time for"gelt." Gelt? For whom? I watched as four dining room chairs were lined up at one end of the room and four uncles seated. One by one, with the oldest going first, the name of each grandchild was called, and each came forward to pass down the "gelt line." My future mother-in-law, Shirley, knowing everyone's birthday, kept the chronology straight, and when the time came for Brenda, I was sur- prised to be includedwith her. In my late 20s, I thought myself beyond getting gelt. But as I passed down the line, each uncle pressed a crisp $1 bill into my hand (Stanley Berko, my future father-in- law;gave me a $2 bill), and as I shook their hands and wished each a "Happy Chanukah," I felt like a million bucks. When Brenda reached the end of the line, her grand- mother handed her a white envelope. At Chanukah, "You got a dollar from each uncle, two from your own parents and two from Vava, plus abirthday bond," explained Joe Hasson, my wife's brother. . Hasson recalls using the $7 to buy record albums or gas for his car. "We also used the bills to play liar's poker," he added. "I would bring girlfriends, and they would get a big kick out of it. It made you feel good to continue the tradition," said Hasson, who is married and has two children who also went through the line. He remembers the line as a kind of roll call. "It was the only time you would see all the cousins," he said. However, I soon realized, one didn't even need to be present to be counted. If for some reason you couldn't make it, someone would be designated to go through the line for you. One of the uncles, Lou Has- son, remembers the tradition beginning in the mid-1960s. "There are four branches of our family. Itwaswonderful to have them together," he said. Another of the uncles, Gene Levey, said .that "before we gave gelt, each family would pick another family and give them gifts, but it was hard to know what to buy." As the cousins married and had children, the number of gelt getters doubled to ap- proximately 40. Berko, who remembers going to the bank to get about $75, recalled that his first gelt line was also the year he married into the family. "I didn't even know every- one's name, but I wanted to be part of it, too," he said, as did the next generation. "It didn't matter to me if Holding fistfuls of dollars for the family gelt line in the early Hasson, .Gene Levey, Stanley Berko and the late Julius KarabeL it was $100 bill or a dollar, I After some 40 years, how- really wouldn't have cared," ever, when she was 25, those : wrote Beau Karabel, one of the moments stopped with Vava's great-grandchildren, inatext, passing in 2008 104. "I just loved these guys and "I miss it so much," Petru- wanted to be them one day." zzi said. Rachel Petruzzi, another For Rachel's mother, El- great-grandchild, said she len Petruzzi, the line was a remembers "getting together means of family continuity. as this humungous unit" at Even with the untimely Chanukah. deaths of several of the aunts "Going through the geltand uncles, including her line, you would get a special mother's, she noted that the moment with each uncle and family carried on with its my grandfather,, she said. Chanukah tradition. Randie Laine K - 2000s are, from left, Lou "We have strong feelings for each other," Ellen Pe- truzzi said of her extended family, who continue to get together at Passover and Rosh Hashanah--a dinner that Brenda and I now host that is flavored with a dish from each family. "We are strongly connected." Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life irrom Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@ gmail.com, All genuinely yours. The new memories. The big adventures. The fantastic neighbors. 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