Not many people need an excuse to enjoy a donut. But if you need a reason, Hanukkah will give you one. 

Sufganiyah is a round, often jelly-filled donut that is enjoyed by Jews around the world during the end of the year festivities. And while many people outside of the Jewish faith are familiar with the eight nights of lighting the menorah, not as many may understand what this delicious dessert has to do with Hanukkah.

Alon Balshan of Alon’s Bakery

Marina Alberhasky with Temple Emanu-El of Atlanta says sufganiyah is a staple of the Jewish celebration. It also represents the miracle of the oil in the second century B.C.E. After Jewish freedom fighters reclaimed their Temple, a single can of oil kept their candles burning for eight nights.

“The reason why sufganiyah are enjoyed on Hanukkah, is because they are usually fried in oil and oil has an important meaning during Hanukkah,” said Alberhasky.

So, these sugary, pillows of fried dough are not your average donuts. Alberhasky says that’s because tradition is baked in.

“The Jewish faith really lives on through tradition,” she said. “It’s very special for the grandparents and the great-grandparents to carry on these traditions with their grandkids. But it’s also a bonus to consume multiple donuts for a week.”

If this sweet treat is not customary on your holiday table, Alon’s Bakery & Market is used to converting those of us with a sweet tooth.

“No one is complaining about a cream-filled bit of fried dough,” said Alon’s Marketing Director Lily Balshan. 

Pastry Chef Alon Balshan, who’s 61, traveled from his home country of Israel to America in 1986, and opened his first of three bakeries in the Atlanta area in 1992. He can still be found in the kitchen at his Morningside, Dunwoody, or Phipps Plaza locations. During the Festival of Lights, Jews and non-Jews alike stock up on sufganiyah at Alon’s, which comes with either chocolate, Nutella, jelly, cream or dolce de leche inside. 

“You don’t always know what’s inside, so it’s a nice surprise,” Balshan said.

Both Alberhasky and Balshan describe Judaism as food-centered, with a love for family and tradition. And while Hanukkah isn’t considered the faith’s major holiday, Balshan said sufganiyah is part of what makes it a joyous occasion.

“I think it’s really nice because Judaism can be a very heavy religion,” said Balshan. “So, it’s nice to be part of a cheerful holiday. Hanukkah is about celebrating, getting with family, gift giving, lighting candles, and eating delicious food.”

Tiffany Griffith

Tiffany Griffith is a journalist based in Atlanta.