From Dec. 10 through 17, Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, will be celebrated by Jewish communities alone and apart all over the world.
Hanukkah takes place over eight nights. Each night, families and synagogue congregations gather to light a candle on a menorah. The festival celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the 160s BCE. The Maccabees, a small Jewish army, led a revolt and retook control of the temple from the occupying Seleucid Empire, which had forced Greek traditions on Judea. Due to the war, there was only enough oil to light the menorah for one night, but it lasted for eight days.
Traditionally, candles are lit on a menorah every night of Hanukkah. Because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people cannot gather in synagogues to observe lighting the menorah.
Congregation Etz Chayim in Winnipeg will have Zoom live streams of their candle-lighting ceremony every evening of Hanukkah. Following the ceremony, people from the congregation will perform different talents, like singing, dancing or telling jokes.
It is “very casual for most of the days,” Claudia Griner, program director of Etz Chayim, says. “But on Saturday, Dec. 12, we are having Nation of Two perform.” The evening is typically celebrated by Etz Chayim with a community meal. This year, they have meal kits for order. The dinner will be virtually blessed by Rabbi Kliel Rose and Cantor Tracy Kasner over Zoom before the performance.
The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg is also offering fun activities for kids and families. For the second year in a row, they are running a Nailed It! contest for preteens. PJ Our Way Nailed It!: Chanukah Edition is based on the Netflix TV show of the same name. Registered participants will receive a package of supplies ahead of time, and, on the day of the contest, a Hanukkah-themed cake will be revealed, and participants will try to recreate the design.
The federation is also running a car scavenger hunt, which has evolved with the Code Red restrictions to keep all family members in their cars as they drive around town to visit different lighting displays, musical acts and mascots.
The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg is also offering a free virtual tour of the Western Wall tunnels on Dec. 10. The event includes activities for kids and an actor who plays different characters from the Hanukkah story.
But while there are many activities to enjoy, and sacred ceremonies to participate in, Griner says, “It’s a fun moment. It’s not like Christmas (during which presents are often a key focus). Of course, kids feel the pressure of the neighbours or friends who have gifts,” Griner says. “I have kids, and I try to give them one, and it’s not huge, like chocolate coins.”
However, the two holidays do share at least one thing in common: they’re about family.
“It is not a major holiday. Every family gathers. The cooking is a very important part of it, where each item symbolizes a moment of the history,” Grienier says. Normally, the dinner is arranged so “each family sits with their own relatives. So it is all together, but really, it is a family moment where each one lights the candle, sharing the warmth as one household.”
To find out more about Etz Chayim and their community events, go to congregationetzchayim.ca/. To find out more about PJ Our Way Nailed it: Chanukah Edition, the car scavenger hunt and the JNF tour of the Western Wall Tunnels, visit the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s calendar, jewishwinnipeg.org/calendar.
Published in Volume 75, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 25, 2020)