Can Republicans and Democrats lighting menorah candles and eating latkes together during Hanukkah lead to greater political bipartisanship?

It certainly can't hurt, according to Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. For nearly 20 years, the Jewish advocacy group has held an annual event known as "Latkes and Politics" during Hanukkah, which this year begins on Saturday and ends Dec. 16.

The informal gathering scheduled Tuesday at the Sabes Jewish Community Center in Minneapolis is expected to once again bring together strange political bedfellows to celebrate the festive Jewish holiday.

"It's a fun, relaxed celebration with a dash of religion via the menorah," Hunegs said. "We invite friends. Amongst those friends are elected officials, Jewish and non-Jewish, Democrat and Republican."

"Chronologically, it's often after the election ... so oftentimes the elected officials get a chance to see each other, perhaps former opponents ... and have a chance to talk in a relaxed setting ... I like to think of it as sort of our contribution to bipartisanship and stability, via Hanukkah, in Minnesota."

Hunegs noted that in 2006 his group was giving an award to former Minnesota Rep. Mark Kennedy, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate that year who lost to DFLer Amy Klobuchar.

"Of course, Amy Klobuchar was the senator-elect and she came [to the event]. It was probably the first event where Senator-elect Klobuchar and Representative Kennedy had been together [post-election]."

At this year's gathering, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a member of First Universalist Church of Minneapolis, is expected to attend, along with other government officials, Hunegs said. Besides the fried potato latkes, attendees also will partake of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).

"It's a chance for people to get together ... see friends and think a bit about Hanukkah."

Rose French • 612-673-4352