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Gelt Without Guilt

Forget the yellow mesh bag. This Hanukkah, look for ethically produced and distributed chocolate coins.

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Veruca Chocolates’ Hanukkah gelt, at left, and the more familiar variety. (Tablet Magazine)

Despite my earlier shout-out to Rebecca Gomez, I am now a loyal New Yorker and must also mention Li-Lac Chocolates, a local business since 1923. It’s not kosher-certified, organic, or fair trade, but its gelt (along with that of Lake Champlain Chocolates, which is kosher-certified) was often mentioned by Tablet readers as a gelty pleasure. (I did a nonscientific Facebook poll about the best gelt, because I am all about the research.) And there’s still an ethical angle: Li-Lac uses a foiler (the machine that wraps and stamps the individual coins—a fascinating video of the foiling process is online) belonging to Madelaine Chocolate, a Rockaways company founded in 1949 by two Jewish brothers-in-law from the Lower East Side. Unfortunately, the factory in Far Rockaway flooded during Hurricane Sandy and is currently closed, which means Li-Lac’s quantities of foil-covered coins are very limited. Buy them while you can, and feel free to donate to the National Confectionery Foundation’s Rockaway Disaster Relief Fund, which supports businesses destroyed by Sandy.

Finally, there is a brand-new entry in the upscale and ethical-gelt sweepstakes. Veruca Chocolates was started by Heather Johnston, a pediatrician who decided she wanted to spend more time with her children and trained as a chocolatier at Chicago’s French Pastry School. (She still moonlights in the ER.) She scandalously dispensed with the foil and made coins modeled on actual historical currency minted in around 40 B.C.E. by King Antigonus II Mattathias, the last Judean king of the Hasmonean period. Johnston sent a sample to Tablet, where the staff went into paroxysms of culinary ecstasy, or so I am told, but I was not there, and my colleagues are greedy horrible people who did not save me any. Thus I cannot testify to Verucan deliciousness. (I can tell you my editor gazed at me later with somewhat terrifying intensity and said, “It is the best gelt I have ever eaten in my life.” And I can say it is the prettiest. And I hate my coworkers.) Veruca uses ingredients from Guittard, an American company with a commitment to fair trade and sustainability practices and hand-crafts coins in grown-up flavors like dark chocolate with sea salt, or espresso and milk chocolate with cacao nibs. They’re probably too good for your shrieking little dreidel-heads. They’re not cheap, but they’re cheaper (and way more ethically minded) than the most expensive gelt I found on the interwebs, that of the venerable French brand Debauve & Gallais, which was developed for Marie Antoinette, a person not noted for her stance on workers’ rights. It is not fair trade and it is $200 per box.

As for why we eat coin-shaped chocolate on Hanukkah at all, that’s debatable. Rabbis for Human Rights goes with Eliezer Segal’s explanation that students in Europe used to give coins to their teachers as a play on the Hebrew word chinukh (education) which is very similar to chanukah (dedication). Prinz told me about an old Christian tradition of putting coins in one’s shoes for Saint Nicholas (whom the Dutch call Sinterklaas), to celebrate his feast day on Dec. 6. In her book, she recalls visiting Belgium on Dec. 6 and being approached by young people holding out glass mugs and asking for coins. “Christmas is a miracle story for Christians; Hanukkah is miracle story for Jews,” Prinz said. Given that it’s also a story about liberation and self-determination, shouldn’t our gelt fit the narrative?

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Curious says:

Are any of the chocolates under reliable Orthodox kosher supervision (i.e. a hechsher widely accepted by kosher-keeping Jews)?

You should order the $200 box of gelt, just to get back at your editor.

yotzeret says:

It has a Triangle K hechsher. Up to you (and your rabbi) if Triangle K is reliable enough.

Great story; perhaps it’ll inspire some new products.

We make several chocolate nut spreads with Guittard chocolate,

and Kosher under Igud Hakashrus, Los Angeles.

You could get creative and make something with the above and wrap it in foil!

Check us out at zspecialtyfood.com

singing chef says:

We have a severe tree nut allergy in our household. Does anyone know of a PC, delish, affordable gelt source that isn’t manufactured on equipment that uses nuts?

Marjorie Ingall says:

Lake Champlain Chocolates gelt has Star-K Kosher Certification and Divine Chocolate/Rabbis for Human Rights gelt is Triangle-K.

Let’s keep the discussion going on the Fair Trade Gelt Campaign’s facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/fairtradegelt

Equal Exchange is Fair Trade and O U certified. They do not make gold foiled coins, but do have small rectangular bars that can stand in place for traditional gelt. It can also raise questions about why this gelt is different. Last year, we melted down Equal Exchange bars to make our own gelt. We poured it into plastic molds and wrapped it in foil. It was a fun and easy activity for all ages!

marjorie says:

plastic gelt molds are really cheap — you can search online. i also found a recipe for freehand salted caramel chocolate coins online. yum.

Thanks! Have added a link to this to our FB page –
https://www.facebook.com/Jewish.Labor.Committee where we also have a
link for those wanting to buy unionized worker-made Chanukah cards.
>> Arieh Lebowitz, JLC Associate Director

Robert says:

Ms. Prinz shold choose another cause to champion. Maybe she ought to rally around a truly Jewish cause…maybe there is something in Israel that could catch her fancy.
OMG…

Marilyn says:

Robert, lighten up, it always doesn’t have to be so heavy!! A wonderful article Ms. Prinz.

Robert Zimring says:

“At one point, the Reform movement declared non-union California grapes non-kosher;…”

I am curious about this quote. Historically, did not the Reform movement abandon biblical and rabbinic laws and practices of kashrut? Can a Reform rabbi declare a certain food and its harvesting treif?

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Gelt Without Guilt

Forget the yellow mesh bag. This Hanukkah, look for ethically produced and distributed chocolate coins.

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