The festival is typically a time of togetherness, but it will unfortunately be the Temple's third holiday season at home due to COVID-19.
Usually, the first night of Hanukkah brings dozens of Temple Beth Israel members together in fellowship and faith. Members bring their menorahs from home, gather them on one table in the hall and light them, as well as the Temple’s menorah, together as they recite the prayer.
It’s an outstanding sight, President Stuart Sinai said. In 2020, that sight will be seen, like so many other occasions, through the lens of Zoom.
“I think that we will most miss the hugs and warm embraces, because it's truly a community,” TBI member Lee Mirman said. “While we get together via Zoom, you can't have that. We miss that physical touch, and I think we all need hugs.”
Hanukkah begins on the night of Dec. 10 and ends the evening of Dec. 18. It’s the Jewish Festival of Light and symbolizes freedom, the celebration of re-taking the Temple in Jerusalem when one night of oil lasted eight nights.
“It’s a time where we’re all happy and looking forward to better things,” TBI executive director Isaac Azerad said. “A good metaphor would be the light at the end of the tunnel that we see right now with the different vaccines coming into the scene, but the light at the end of the tunnel does not allow us to be sloppy or reckless … There is still a tunnel to travel through.”
At Temple Beth Israel, it’s the second holiday season its members are spending at home due to the pandemic, the High Holidays being the first. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two most important holidays on the Jewish calendar and Rabbi Stephen Sniderman pre-recorded his services. He’ll do the same for the Hanukkah service on Dec. 11.
Hanukkah is a festival, so the religious aspect isn’t the biggest part of the holiday, but the Shabbat service within the holiday addresses themes of Hanukkah and they light the Hanukkah candles in addition to the Shabbat candles.
“Unfortunately, the biggest aspect of Hanukkah is togetherness, which cannot be shared this year,” Azerad said. “There’s a strong desire to (come together) with an equally strong understanding that now is not the time, although we’re pining for a time where we’re going to have togetherness.”
Members are finding ways to connect still. Every Friday, members log on for a Zoom social cocktail hour and on Dec. 11, they’ll stay on a little longer to sing the Kiddush and Hanukkah blessings and light the candles together. As for dinner, members have been able to pick up Shabbat dinners from the Temple on Fridays to recreate some semblance of the gatherings. Hanukkah dinner is a big part of the holiday, with sweets and treats taking center stage, so dinner on Dec. 11 will include festive treats like latkes and jelly donuts.
“It's very warm, genuine and authentic,” Mirman said of the usual celebration. “So in absence of that this year, we will do our own thing.”
Mirman’s family, which includes his wife and two teenage children, will put out the menorah his daughter made when she was 3 years old as they do every year for their at-home celebration. However, they’re also looking forward to getting out safely and taking a beat to slow down and appreciate the festivity of the area’s outdoor spots.
“We’re going to try to find some balance, nourish and take care of ourselves, and part of that is being outside,” Mirman said. “We're very cognizant of how fortunate we are and part of that is getting back to going to our local parks from the Bayfront and local amenities that during normal circumstances, we may be too busy to access.”