Chocolate gelt is as central to Chanukah — which begins at sundown on Dec. 8 — as dreidels and latkes. But gelt didn’t become a holiday tradition until the 1920s, when it was invented by Loft’s, an American candy company. And it took nearly 100 years for chocolate gelt to become linked to the mitzvah of tikkun olam (healing the world).
Recent media coverage of the global chocolate industry’s poverty wages and use of child labor in West Africa have prompted a reform movement. Many chocolate manufacturers have signed fair labor protocols, but so far only the fair-trade certified companies have ended child labor and started paying living wages to farmers.
Ilana Schatz, the founding director of Fair Trade Judaica (www.fairtradejudaica.org), is pleased to see fair-trade gelt from the company Divine Chocolate in Bay Area Judaica stores this year. Divine Chocolate works with a collective of 300 farmers in Ghana to source their fair-trade cocoa, and helps the communities develop projects with their income.
“By being able to sell their products at fair-trade prices, [the farmers] bring in enough money to send their children to school,” said Schatz, an El Cerrito resident. The Ghana community has invested in drinking water, medical clinics and women’s entrepreneurship projects, she said. “The fair-trade premium they receive is invested back into the community to pull itself out of poverty.”
Not only is fair-trade chocolate helping “repair the world,” which is a central tenet of Judaism, but it also tastes amazing, said Schatz.
“Divine has had fair-trade milk chocolate gelt for years, but this year they have a dark 70 percent cocoa,” she said. “I call it guilt-free gourmet gelt for grown-ups.”
Divine Chocolate gelt is $3.50 a bag and available at the Rodef Sholom Sisterhood Gift Shop in San Rafael, Afikomen Judaica in Berkeley and Dayenu at the JCC of San Francisco.
The top flavor for menorahs this year is local. At Afikomen, shop owner Chaim Mahgel has set up a delightful window display for local artists to exhibit their menorahs, some of which are available for purchase. A new San Francisco cable car menorah is available at Afikomen and Dayenu for $70 — the design is a model of the famous red cars, with candleholders on top to light the way. Dayenu also is offering a San Francisco Giants menorah, commemorating this year’s big World Series win ($88).
The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, in its first-ever Chanukah gift guide, offers a handsome collection of menorahs — from traditional to artistic designs. Artisan jewelry includes collections from artists around the world, as well as from San Francisco; books, home décor and gifts for kids round out the offerings. A special selection of CJM exhibition–inspired gifts include books and toys based on the art of Ezra Jack Keats and the work of New York’s “radical” Photo League. All purchases support the CJM.
Along with a wide range of metal, glass and ceramic menorahs, the Rodef Sholom shop offers fair-trade menorahs from South Africa and El Salvador ($36-$40). These menorahs are crafted by well-paid artisans who have been trained by nonprofit organizations to make items for Western commercial markets, including a wide variety of Judaica. The shop also offers fair-trade metal Chanukah flags from Mexico ($16), reminiscent of papel picado (paper cut-outs), and a fair trade glass mizrach (wall ornament) from Ecuador ($10).
While most dreidels should be made for repeated use, some are just too beautiful to spin (or hand over to children). Miriam’s Well at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto is selling a 14 karat gold-plated Hagenauer dreidel produced by the Jewish Museum ($36). The dreidel was originally designed in 1920, and combines a pierced ornate floral design with sleek art deco borders, typical of the period.
For eight nights of entertainment, check out a selection of adult games, available at most of the stores. The Jewish edition of Taboo challenges players to try to get their partner to say “Chanukah” without also saying “Maccabees,” “menorah” or “jelly doughnut” ($35). The Chanukah Box of Questions ($10) is chock full of conversation starters drawing on the themes of light and liberation in Jewish history. For those needing to brush up on their Hebrew in a fun way, Alef Bet Judaica in Los Gatos recommends the Hebrew version of the popular word game Bananagrams ($20). It’s like Scrabble without the board, so players can focus on the words, rather than aligning letters with triple word score squares. Playing with an Israeli is guaranteed to boost your vocabulary!
For those who’d prefer to revive their Yiddish, Alef Bet also has Harvey Gotliffe’s new book “The Oy Way: Following the Path of Most Resistance” ($14.95), which combines gentle physical exercises with Yiddish vocabulary and phrases, perfect for working off all those extra Chanukah calories (or just laughing them off).
And for your Chanukah party soundtrack, the DJ at Afikomen recommends new music from Idan Raichel, Andy Statman and Itzhak Perlman, along with Matisyahu’s 2012 album “Spark Seeker” ($17.99), which features the formerly Hassidic pop star in his newly shaved and reformed rendition.
Where to shop
3042 Claremont Ave.
14103D Winchester Blvd.
Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission St., S.F.
JCC of San Francisco
3220 California St., S.F.
Oshman Family JCC
3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
Rodef Sholom Sisterhood Gift Shop
170 N. San Pedro Road