William Shatner reminisces about his Hanukkah traditions

In a new PBS documentary on the holiday, Jewish actor recalls lighting candles and making latkes with his family

November 27, 2018 18:06
2 minute read.
William Shatner reminisces about his Hanukkah traditions

Menorah in the window on the eighth night. (photo credit: AMANDA FIELD)


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He remembers watching his mother cook sizzling hot latkes. He recalls the family menorah displayed all year long on the mantelpiece. And William Shatner said he considered including a Hanukkah song on his new Christmas album, but ultimately decided against it. 

Shatner, the legendary actor known for playing the iconic Captain Kirk in Star Trek, appears in a new PBS documentary on Hanukkah airing next week. The film, Hanukkah: A Festival of DeLights by David Anton, "traces the evolution of Hanukkah from its origin as a small holiday within Judaism... to one of major prominence in assimilated American Jewish life," said PBS.

Alongside Shatner, actress and singer Lainie Kazan, writer Abigail Pogrebin and a range of scholars, rabbis and historians discuss the meaning of the holiday and its importance in American Jewish life.

"It's the tradition and the celebration of of something brave and victorious," Shatner, 87, says of the holiday in the film. "Those are the things I think Jews think about."

Shatner, who grew up in a Jewish family in Montreal, reminisced about his family's Hanukkah traditions.

"The menorah was silver and blackened a little by years of use - the places where the candles went in were black no matter how much polishing had been done," he said. "It was something that sat somewhere on the mantelpiece all year long until it was used - and then it was used with great reverence."

He also recalled standing in the kitchen as his mother prepared potato latkes for the holiday.

"My mother's standing over a frying pan, putting the mixture of potato, the ground-up potatoes into the sizzling fat, the oil, and frying up potato pancakes," Shatner recounted. "The [memory of] potato pancakes and the applesauce... and the family all around having the pancakes is indelible."

And Shatner said the story of Hanukkah "absolutely lends itself to movies" - though he admitted "I'm past the age where I could play the hero."

Last month, the actor released a Christmas album titled Shatner Claus, featuring him and an impressive array of special guests performing holiday classics. 

"It's all the Christmas songs that I could think of with a slight bent," he says in the film. "And I was going to do 'Dreidel, Dreidel,' then I thought better of it... I mean, I should have, maybe."

Hanukkah: A Festival of DeLights airs on PBS next week across the United States - on Sunday, December 2 in most regions; check local listings for details.

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