A young boy looks through the menorah during a lighting ceremony at the Calgary Jewish Community Centre on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. COVID-19 is prompting Jews to find creative ways to safely celebrate Hanukkah this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A young boy looks through the menorah during a lighting ceremony at the Calgary Jewish Community Centre on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. COVID-19 is prompting Jews to find creative ways to safely celebrate Hanukkah this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘A little bit of light:’ Jews find creative ways to observe Hanukkah during pandemic

Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting candles for eight nights

From parading through the streets in menorah-adorned cars to learning to make traditional holiday treats over Zoom, Jews across Canada are finding creative ways to safely celebrate Hanukkah during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The whole message of Hanukkah is that a little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness,” said Chana Borenstein, who co-directs the Chabad Jewish Centre of Durham Region, east of Toronto, with her husband Rabbi Tzali Borenstein.

Hanukkah, which begins Thursday at sundown, commemorates the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem after a Jewish revolt during the second century BC drove out rulers who forced the worship of Greek gods.

As the legend goes, there was only enough oil left to light the temple’s multi-branched lamp, or menorah, for one day after the victory. But, miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.

Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting candles for eight nights, playing with spinning tops called dreidels and eating oil-laden foods such as deep-friend potato pancakes called latkes and jelly-filled doughnuts called sufganiyot.

During a normal Hanukkah, the Chabad centre would invite dignitaries and hundreds of community members for a menorah lighting in downtown Whitby, Ont., said Borenstein.

“We had to think out of the box a little bit and change our original plans.”

This year, the Durham Chabad is one of the organizations leading a Hanukkah car parade. Participants can purchase or rent light-up menorahs to place on roofs or in windows. Flags and goody bags are also being given out.

The parade, scheduled for Monday, culminates with the lighting of a menorah and a fireworks show, safely viewed from within vehicles.

Calgary’s PJ Library, part of a global organization that provides free Jewish books to children, has put together 230 “Hanukkah at Home” bags for kids that include candles, crafts, dreidels, chocolate coins and educational materials.

In pre-pandemic times, the library’s Calgary chapter would hold a Hanukkah party for children at the local Jewish Community Centre, said manager Kathie Wainer.

This year, the library and local synagogues are teaming up to hold traditional doughnut-making lessons and storytelling sessions over Zoom.

Wainer said the switch to virtual during the pandemic has widened the reach of holiday events, making it easier for out-of-towners to be included.

“I still miss the face to face, but the fact that I can have family from Medicine Hat or from Cochrane or Canmore logging on and feeling part of the Jewish community in Calgary has been quite amazing,” she said.

“People want to celebrate and they do want to celebrate together. It’s different, but in some ways almost better.”

Wainer said she’s planning on lighting the candles with her granddaughter over Zoom this year and dropping off small gifts at her door each day.

Kehillat Beth Israel in Ottawa has eight nights of COVID-safe events planned, said Cantor Jason Green, who leads singing and chanting during services and is the synagogue’s youth director.

“We are being super-cautious for the safety of our members,” Green said.

“We are trying to do a combination of online and in-person, but distanced and very much safe, outdoors events.”

Festivities begin Thursday night with a drive-in menorah lighting at which attendees can tune in on their car radios. There’s also a “Hanukkah Hop” to admire decorated homes, musical performances and a Zoom debate between lawyers over weighty topics such as whether sour cream or apple sauce makes a better latke topping.

On the Prairies, the Jewish National Fund’s Manitoba and Saskatchewan chapter is among others offering virtual tours of the tunnels beneath the Western Wall in Jerusalem, since it’s a site close to where the oil miracle took place.

Executive director David Greaves said more than 100 people will likely participate, double what was expected.

He sees parallels between the Hanukkah story thousands of years ago and how people today are managing to stay connected during the pandemic.

“Our temple has temporarily been destroyed and what are we doing? We’re using technology, which I would compare to the oil,” he said.

“Technology is our oil that’s burning right now and it’s going to last as long as we need it to do — and beyond — to get us to the other side of this.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Holidays

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A person experiencing homelessness in downtown Nanaimo last week. (News Bulletin photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Change approach to combatting homelessness

Letter writers express frustration with status quo

Environment Canada is forecasting snow for the east Vancouver Island region the weekend of Jan. 23. (Black Press file)
Up to 15 cm of snow forecast for Nanaimo area this weekend

Snow to begin Saturday night, according to Environment Canada

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the legislature, Jan. 11, 2021. (B.C. government)
Vancouver Island smashes COVID-19 high: 47 new cases in a day

Blowing past previous records, Vancouver Island is not matching B.C.s downward trend

Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo councillors like new sustainable buying policy

Finance and audit committee recommends council approve new procurement policy

Action at the Nanaimo Curling Centre. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo sports organizations qualify for COVID-19 relief funding

Province announces support for curling, rowing, gymastics, softball, rugby, squash, football clubs

Businesses continue to struggle under COVID-19 restrictions as the pandemic reaches the one-year mark. (B.C. government)
Another 564 COVID-19 cases, mass vaccine plan coming Friday

15 more deaths, community cluster declared in Williams Lake

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Concerned Island school bus driver says people still pass while red lights flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

The cost of potentially counting deer regionwide was among the issues that prompted Capital Regional District committee members to vote against pursuing a greater CRD role in deer management. (Black Press Media file photo)
Expanded deer management a non-starter for Greater Victoria

Capital Regional District committee maintains current level of support

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Darlene Curylo scratched a $3M ticket, BCLC’s largest ever scratch and win prize. (BCLC)
Kelowna woman in shock after winning BCLC’s largest-ever instant-ticket prize

Darlene Curylo couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw the amount of money she’d won from a scratch ticket

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

Aquaculture employee from Vancouver Island, Michelle, poses with a comment that she received on social media. Facebook group Women in Canadian Salmon Farming started an online campaign #enoughisenough to highlight the harassment they were facing online after debates about Discovery Islands fish farms intensified on social media. (Submitted photo)
Female aquaculture employees report online bullying, say divisive debate has turned sexist

Vancouver Island’s female aquaculture employees start #enoughisenough to address misogynistic comments aimed at them

Most Read