Chanukah Celebrations with the Rubins

Top: Matt in ECE. Bottom: Jen (far right, next to the counselor) at CampJCC in 1992.

(Published Oct 26, 2021)

When Mike and Leslie Rubin moved into the Meridian Hills North apartments just down the street from the JCC, they knew what they were getting themselves into. “It was a Jewish community – everyone in our building was Jewish, we had four Jewish mothers in just the little place where we were. Our apartment was like living in the shtetl!” Mike said. So joining the JCC in 1981 was a no-brainer:  Not only was it the Jewish community center, but they also loved the workout facilities and racquetball courts. And once their kids Matt and Jen were born, they began utilizing the ECE (early childhood education) program as well – Jen even tied her shoes by herself for the first time while sitting on the JCC’s Welcome Desk. “It became sort of a life cycle component, where our initial membership was now feeding into this next generation beginning to have some experience at the J,” Leslie said. “It was basically ‘come for the fitness center, stay for everything else.’ We had friends there, so it was a friendship community,” Mike added.

While some of the Rubins’ interactions with the J have been time-delineated – they took tae kwon do together as a family with Master Jean-Pierre when the kids were younger, and Matt started his SoChatti chocolate company in the JCC’s kitchen until the operations outgrew the space – others have remained constant. Leslie continues to work out in the early morning twice or three times a week, and they’re still picking up kids from youth programs, except this time it’s grandchildren Magnus and Renn.

Magnus and Renn (in alternating photos) in ECE (Early Childhood Education) and CampJCC

“You’ve Got to Give Back”

Leslie and Mike have been part of almost every Jewish organization in Indianapolis – Leslie is currently board president at the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis (JFGI) and was previously an Annual Campaign co-chair there and a board member at the J and the Jewish Community Relations Council, and Mike is a past president of both the JCC and JFGI. “The J was definitely a gateway drug to Jewish involvement,” Mike quipped. The reason for their community participation is simple: Leslie and Mike both believe that the more gifts, talents and skills you have, the greater your obligation is to give back. “It was an expectation,” Leslie said. “I grew up in a small town, and my father was a professional. The idea was that you’re a community leader; you’ve got to give back.”

“Whatever I Do, It Goes Well with Applesauce”

A glass menorah Leslie has had for 25 years

As the Rubins’ use of the J has cycled over the years, so has their Chanukah celebration. They light the menorah (candelabra) every year (it’s a running joke in the family that they have a drawer specifically for Chanukah candles, so they stock up for years at a time), but the extent of their festivities has waxed and waned as their children and grandchildren have gotten older. Mike fondly remembers making beignet-like sufganiyot (fried doughnuts) when Matt and Jen were little, and Magnus and Renn have recently begun learning how to play dreidel (a spinning top game) with gelt (chocolate coins). “The side effect of that is they know where the gelt is stored!” Mike laughed.

As the family’s resident chef, Mike is the one who continually experiments with latke (fried potato pancake) recipes. “Every year is different. I’ve done some that are basically like super duper hash browns, some that are a little creamier and fluffier, and some that actually almost rise. But whatever I do, it goes well with applesauce.” The Rubins fall on the “applesauce” side of the “applesauce vs. sour cream” latke topping debate by default, as Leslie is dairy-free. “[Mike] does a superb job every year,” Leslie praised. “Those are the things that disappear from the table. The kids get into them and it’s like, ‘Wait! Leave some for me!'”

Beginner’s Guide to Chanukah

Chanukah (sometimes spelled Hanukkah) is the festival of lights, commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a successful revolt against the Greeks. As part of the rededication, the victorious Jews needed to light the Temple’s menorah (candelabrum), but they had only enough oil to last one day, and it would take eight days to prepare more oil. Miraculously, the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days. The miracle of the oil is commemorated with this eight-day candle-lighting holiday.

Chanukah begins between Thanksgiving and Christmas. About half of the time, it overlaps with Christmas, but there are many years when Chanukah ends long before Christmas (like this year – in 2021, Chanukah runs from the evening of Nov 28 through Dec 6).

Almost all Jews light candles with their families for at least some nights of the holiday, so people like to be at home during this holiday.

The most important thing to remember about Chanukah is that it is not Jewish Christmas. Chanukah is a very minor holiday. It’s about lighting candles and playing games for chocolate coins and eating potato pancakes. Chanukah gift-giving rarely extends much beyond one’s own children.

Words to Know

  • Menorah – eight-branch candleholder; each night of Chanukah we light an additional candle until the final night, when all eight candles are lit
  • Dreidel – spinning top with four Hebrew letters (nun, Gimmel, hey, shin) which stand for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” (“A Great Miracle Happened There”)
  • Latkes – potato pancakes, a traditional Chanukah food