How suburban Jewish congregations are celebrating Hanukkah this year
With the coronavirus pandemic hampering holiday traditions and religious celebrations, faith communities are getting creative to bring together a socially distanced flock.
Beginning this week, several suburban Jewish congregations will observe Hanukkah virtually amid COVID-19 restrictions, with drive-in menorah lightings and concerts, and gift baskets sent to families and seniors isolated from their communities.
The eight-day Festival of Lights, which begins at sundown today, represents the victory of light over darkness.
"The message of Hanukkah is about increasing in more light," said Rabbi Mendy Goldstein, director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Naperville. "It's in the challenge ... in the hardship that we have to find the light."
Typically, Goldstein lights a Hanukkah menorah at Naperville City Hall. This year, instead, there will be a Hanukkah parade of cars with portable menorahs on top through downtown Naperville, culminating in a drive-in menorah lighting ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in the parking lot of the Fox Valley Mall in Aurora. A video presentation about Hanukkah will be played on a giant screen.
"We want to make this available for people to get out and somewhat connect with the community and other people," Goldstein said.
The Chabad Jewish Center of Elgin, which usually rents out the ballroom at the Centre of Elgin for a big Hanukkah celebration, will gather members virtually via Zoom on the first night of Hanukkah and have an online celebration Sunday night instead of a drive-in event planned earlier. The latter will include a guest illusionist, Ilan Smith.
"We're going to light the menorah and it's going to be broadcast online," said Rabbi Mendel Shemtov, center co-director. "(We're) just trying to remind everyone that there is a community that is thinking about them."
Events at the Northbrook-based Jewish Community Center of Chicago include a cooking demonstration featuring a recipe from Food Network star and Glenview native Molly Yeh that's a twist on a traditional Hanukkah jelly doughnut: s'mores sufganiyot.
- Courtesy of JCC Chicago
Northbrook-based Jewish Community Center of Chicago for the first time will host two drive-in concerts Sunday with outdoor candle lighting at its early childhood centers in Northbrook and Evanston. Each participating family will receive a swag bag with fun activities to do at home.
"It's really for young families," said Jill Kahan, program marketing manager.
"Most of the eight nights are going to be virtual programming where you can log on and watch a cooking demo, play bingo, trivia night, (have) a virtual pajama party."
The program runs today through Dec. 17. It includes a family-friendly video performance by popular Jewish beatboxer Yuri Lane; a streaming of "Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas," a documentary film about Jewish songwriters who wrote some of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time; and a video presentation of famed National Geographic photographer Udi Goren walking the Israel National Trail.
JCC Chicago also is selling a "Hoppy Hanukkah Brew Box" with eight craft beers and will host online discussions with the brew masters.
On the last night, there will be a cooking demonstration featuring a recipe from Food Network star Molly Yeh, a Glenview native and Camp Chi alum, for a s'mores sufganiyot -- a twist on a traditional Hanukkah jelly doughnut recipe. To register for events, visit jccchicago.org/8nights/.
"A lot of people have really kind of struggled during the pandemic and worried how do we continue on," Kahan said.
"We have been able to maintain our staffing and not only continue on, but being able to pivot to an online platform and matter to a community in a way we never have been able to before. We are looking for opportunities to connect people, and that's really what it's about."
Gift basket delivery
Roughly 40 volunteers from Chabad Cares, the outreach arm of Chabad F.R.E.E. of Niles and surrounding suburbs, will be delivering 750 gift baskets with supplies, including masks and gloves, to seniors in the Des Plaines, Niles and Park Ridge area and patients at local hospitals.
"A lot of our volunteers are teenagers who have very little to do. This is a great way for them to connect with their heritage in a meaningful way by helping others," said Rabbi Lazer Hershkovich, director of Chabad Cares.
Families that sign up for an interactive Hanukkah storytime will get a special visit from the Hanukkah mobile with a giant menorah on top.
"It's going to deliver packages to them with a menorah, candles, activities for the children, and traditional treats," Hershkovich said. "Everyone is going to tune into Zoom and we are going to light the menorah together."
Chabad members can pick up catered traditional meals from the synagogue Sunday afternoon and join on Zoom for a special concert featuring the Hasidic pop rock band 8th Day Sunday night.
"The theme of Hanukkah is shining light on a time of darkness ... today we find ourselves in a very similar situation," Hershkovich said.