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

The North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP have arrested a prolific offender who is now facing more than 40 charges. (Black Press file photo)
‘Priority offender’ arrested in Cowichan Valley faces more than 40 charges

Tyler Elrix, 37, had a history of evading police; was ordered not to be in Vancouver Island

Cowichan Tribes chief Squtxulenhuw (William Seymour) confirmed the first death in the First Nations community from COVID-19. (File photo)
Cowichan Tribes confirms first death from COVID-19

Shelter-in-place order has been extended to Feb. 5

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: Vancouver Island in a January spike while B.C. cases decrease

Island’s top doc Dr. Stanwick breaks down the Island’s rising numbers

Christopher Anthony Craig Dick is wanted by the Port Alberni RCMP in connection to multiple investigations. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Vancouver Island RCMP seek man connected to assault investigations

Christopher Dick, 36, was recently in the North Cowichan and Duncan region

The Farm Table Inn is one of almost two dozen local restaurants and beverage producers participating in Tourism Cowichan’s “Sip, Savour, Support Cowichan” campaign. Pictured are owners George gates and Evelyn Koops. (Alec Wheeler photo)
Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Modelling of predicted transmission growth from the B117 COVID-19 variant in British Columbia. (Simon Fraser University)
COVID-19 variant predicted to cause ‘unmanageable’ case spike in B.C: report

SFU researchers predict a doubling of COVID-19 cases every two weeks if the variant spreads

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

Most Read