By Tobi Schwartz-Cassell
Just a couple of months ago, on Jan 29, we got together for the Annual Cassell Family Hanukkah Party. Unconventional? Yes. But in our family it makes perfect sense.
This January Hanukkah gathering is entering its third decade, and has its roots in retail. Since several members of the family have or had retail stores through the years, December never worked for us. So we’ve always happily extended our holiday season into the New Year.
It’s hosted by my husband Stan’s sister, Debbie Cassell (pronounced “Castle”), and started in her tiny studio apartment in Philadelphia. Back then, there was only one grandchild. This year’s, and many before it, was in Debbie’s large South Jersey home that she shares with her husband, Dan. It’s a good thing, because the family has grown significantly, with great-grandchildren now in the mix.
The Cassell matriarch and patriarch were Tillie and Jack. Sadly, both are gone now. But the Hanukkah Party (Tillie’s favorite holiday—Jack’s was Passover) lives on. And on Jan 29, it had a special meaning because Debbie chose a theme—an “All Tillie & Jack Menu.” No brisket and potato pancakes at this one, though. You’ve probably never even heard of most of the dishes that were served that day because Tillie and Jack took pride in their kitchen creativity. These recipes served the family of six through the lean years but also when times finally got better. They were the glue that held them together through 13 moves, spread over 10 different states. With all that moving, the four Cassell kids stopped bothering to make friends because they knew the next move was coming. They just didn’t know when.
So on Jan 29, we celebrated with “Orange Spaghetti,” “Chinese Barbecue Chicken,” “Spice Cake with Raisins” (which no matter what trick Tillie used, always ended up on the bottom), “Sweet Kugel,” “Farmer’s Chopped Suey,” “Strawberries & Sour Cream,” and “Spaghetti & Meat Sauce.”
The Stan Cassell Branch was assigned “Tillie’s Frozen Angel Food Hershey’s Whipped Cream Cake,” which tastes as good as it sounds. Our daughter Jardin was home from college for the weekend to celebrate, so the night before, she, Stan and I made the cake together. Because there are so many of us now, we made two. Tillie never wrote down her recipe (and we’d never made it before), so relying on Stan & Debbie’s sister Faye’s ratio of ingredients, we got started. Along the way, Stan, Jardin and I reminisced and had a lot of fun. Tillie was there guiding us. No doubt in our minds.
And both Tillie and Jack were there with us at that Hanukkah party, just as they are at every Hanukkah (and Passover) celebration.