Socially distanced and virtual events compose Hanukkah events this year.
Hanukkah is a time to come together, and even the pandemic can't change that. Local Jewish groups have planned for a more virtual, distant Hanukkah than usual but have plenty of events for families to enjoy.
Bethany Leinweber, Director of Youth Education, Outreach and Development at Temple Sinai, can’t help but feel a little sad about the change in environment for Hanukkah this year.
She remembers families arriving at the temple for the Friday Shabbat dinner with their own menorahs, with some guests dressed up in Hannukah-inspired clothing, and grade schoolers singing festive songs to mark the occasion.
“I try to suppress what was, and embrace what is.” Leinweber said.
Conditions this year are different, but Leinweber is comforted that even in the face of a pandemic, the community is still coming together. She and other Temple Sinai staff are making the most of the pandemic year by adjusting with a full slate of events. The services start with a distanced, in-person event followed by a number of online activities.
The Hanukkah celebrations begin with a virtual menorah lighting on Dec. 10 followed by a drive-in Hanukkah Service and Movie night on Dec. 11. Families will watch the service inside the temple — conducted by the Rabbi Samantha Kahn, Chazzan Cliff Abramson, and a select few for the Shabbat blessings in the sanctuary — from their vehicles in the parking lot. Following the service the Disney movie ‘Full Court Miracle’ will play. Eagle-eyed attendees may catch a person dressed in a Dreidel costume walking around the event.
In the spirit of community, the temple will have an online Hanukkah party room going live during five of the eight nights of the holiday. There's also a classroom link full of Hanukkah facts and features that Leinweber designed herself.
Leinweber and company have stocked up on activities for the handful of online days and will host dreidel contests, home decoration contests, menorah construction, cooking demonstrations for modern and traditional latke recipes, and more. Saturday Dec. 12 will have a virtual bingo night, which Leinweber says has been a popular event in 2020.
Online events and meetings and planning simply aren’t the same as what came before, but Leinweber sees a silver lining in the amount of organizing and more personal contact and her group now does with the community. She feels the greater online presence, consistent checking in with people, and reaching out to the community has been more impactful than ever before.
“We meet one on one with our clergy, weekly … we are doing a lot more,” Leinweber says. “We talk about it, “How are we actually engaging?” So we do phone calls, emails, texts before to get people, and then follow up just to check in and keep them connected."
One of the signature elements of Hanukkah is where the Jewish community comes together for the lighting of the menorah, a tricky thing to do in the time of COVID-19.
Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman and other members at Temple Emanu-El had an inspired approach to move forward with the tradition while keeping social distanced — creating and lighting a 7-foot-tall tiki torch menorah outside the temple.
“I typically build whatever needs to be constructed (for the temple)” said Steve Weinberger, creator of the torch. "It took me a while to come up with the concept, most tiki torches are made from bamboo and are sort of cheap, they're not very strong."
Weinberger, a semi-retired craftsman by trade and longtime member of the temple, built the menorah out of metal rods on a bolted foundation for better security.
The lighting will mark the first day of Hanukkah. Similar to its events during the High Holy Days, the Temple will have a gift bag giveaway Dec. 10. Temple members Alice Cotman and Paula Haydenwill be present for an outdoor gift shop on Dec. 9 and 13, and the temple’s members will return to light the Menorah on Hanukkah’s eighth and final day.
It’s a different pace for the temple, which typically has three or four events throughout the entirety of the holiday. This year, while mostly socially distant and utilizing Zoom, has had a greater number of events than ever before. It’s a silver lining to an odd year, and it does Glickman well to see her people connected and happy for it.
“I feel like everybody wants some light these days,” Glickman said. “There's certainly plenty of darkness around.”
At Temple Sinai, visit templesinai-sarasota.org/event/chanukah-party-room.html for a listing of events.
At Temple Emanu-El, visit sarasotatemple.org/calendar for a listing of events. '