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

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,516 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

Central zone has 1,849 active cases

Image/ Metro Creative Connection
County of Wetaskiwin responds to Alberta Energy Regulator’s decision on Directive 067.

On April 7, 2021 the Alberta Energy Regular (AER) announced a new edition of Directive 067.

A damaged unicorn statue is shown in a field outside of Delia, Alta. in this undated handout photo. It’s not often police can report that a unicorn has been found, but it was the truth Saturday when RCMP said a stolen, stainless-steel statue of the mythical beast had been located in a field not far from where he’d been taken. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Mounties get their unicorn; stolen statue of mythical beast found in Alberta field

Police are still looking for suspects, and have called in their forensics experts to help

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

Most Read