Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A hipper Hanukkah

Put on an ugly sweater, bubalah... They're not just for Christmas anymore!

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NEW YORK -- These are a few of Chicky Winkleman's favourite Hanukkah things: ironic, ugly sweaters adorned with Stars of David, his roommate's Christmas tree and making latkes, alone in the afternoon.

The vegetarian living in Burlington, Vt., knows of what he speaks when it comes to marking the eight-day holiday (which ends Sunday), hipster-style. He's co-founder with older brother Duckie of hipsterjew.com, which ran a make-your-own menorah contest last year and enjoys about 50,000 page views a month, presumably among like-minded young Jews.

The problem with hipster Hanukkah, said Winkleman, whose given name is Charles, is once you identify out loud as a hipster, you've likely lost the descriptor for life. But the preschool teacher who dabbles in standup comedy sees a variety of differences between regular Hanukkah and a hipster's touch.

On food: "There are latkes but it's usually never with people. I'm usually alone making latkes one day. It's a little depressing, but it has to be to get the true hipster Jew Hanukkah experience. It's gotta be a little bit lonely."

On the emerging tradition of ugly Hanukkah sweaters (see Geltfiend.com): "The sweaters are a way for us to get involved with the whole Christmas celebration but still separate ourselves from it." They come with Stars of David and menorahs inside brown circles that look like chocolate gelt.

On an idea his brother (real name Ari) is working on: "You know those big saint candles? He's working on a Jewish version with Woody Allen and, I don't know, maybe Barbra Streisand."

Fedoras for yarmulkes, Fair Trade olive oil or candles via the wax of locally sourced bees -- there are lots of ways to pull off a hipster's Hanukkah, even if you're not an active member of the tribe's subset. Or a tribesman of any kind.

Sage Saturn, 22, puts the "ish" in Jewish. He's fresh out of college, not a Jew but hangs out with many and works as a graphic designer for Moderntribe.com, a site loaded with ways to dive into hipster Hanukkah.

"I think more people like me are into exploring what they don't know," said Saturn, who dumped his hard-to-spell real names for two way-cool made-up ones.

Among his favourite Hanukkah things: a menorah made of recycled bicycle chain.

Saturn's boss, Moderntribe co-founder Jennie Rivlin Roberts, sees a whole lot of hipster in what she sells. There's an insulated wine bottle holder made to look like a paper bag and a two-for-one deal on those boxes of word fridge magnets -- one with Yiddish poetry and the other for bike lovers (hipsters love their fixies).

At 55, Shel Horowitz is more hippie than hipster. The expert on green and ethical marketing hipped up his Hanukkah more than a decade ago, when he moved with his wife and two small kids into a 1743 farmhouse in the western Massachusetts town of Hadley.

"We have beautiful starry skies," he said. "We light four menorahs, put them in different windows and walk around the outside of the house to look at them while singing Oh Chanukah. It's just a special thing we do as a family."

His kids, now 19 and 24, still make their way home for the annual walk around the house. For Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, you can find the Horowitzes up a mountain and in a stream near their solarized colonial.

Rafi Samuels-Schwartz, managing editor of the online 'zine Heeb, "the new Jew review," has a few thoughts on hipster Hanukkah:

-- "Jewish hipsters make their latkes out of organic, locally sourced potatoes from their CSA of choice," he wryly observes. "They can go with standard recipes, or think globally with Mexican, Indian or Korean versions."

-- "While averse to wearing yarmulkes themselves, hipsters make sure their pets are dressed appropriately. That said, those Hanukkah sweaters from Geltfiend are pretty great."

-- "Forget A Christmas Story or It's a Wonderful Life. Jewish hipsters watch Hanukkah horror movies," he says, with fans of the genre anxiously anticipating the slasher Hanukkah.

"Until the day Hanukkah is actually made, they usually stick with Jonathan Kesselman's The Hebrew Hammer," he said.

As for the actual Festival of Lights, said Samuels-Schwartz: "For a while, Jewish hipsters celebrated Festivus, but it's just become way too commercial. Now they just celebrate Christmas."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2012 C8

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