This yr, American Jews are bringing Hanukkah exterior

(RNS) – Jewish tradition teaches that the story of the Hanukkah miracle of light over darkness should be published.

This is why some Jews put a menorah (sometimes called “Hanukkiah”) in the window or door. The lighting of the nine-branch candelabra is the central ritual of the eight-day holiday, which begins on Thursday (December 10th).

But for the most part, American Jews turned the December vacation into an indoor festival among family and friends. Unlike the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when Jews crowded synagogues en masse, Hanukkah was always a homemade festival – usually with lots of fried foods like potato fritters and jelly donuts.

Not this year.

With synagogues closed due to the coronavirus and the increasing fatigue of Zoom, Jews across the country are building public menorahs and holding public outdoor lighting ceremonies in some locations to celebrate the holiday.

A large menorah will be set up at the New Reform Temple in Kansas City, Missouri, in December 2020. RNA photo by Kit Doyle

“The idea of ​​promoting the miracle has always been important to us, but we never actually did it,” said Rabbi Alan David Londy of the New Reform Temple in Kansas City, Missouri.

That year, Londy’s synagogue installed a 9-foot electric menorah on its site. It is planned to hold ritual lighting ceremonies outdoors every evening at dusk and invites people to watch from their cars and hear the service broadcast on the radio.

Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, Michigan also plans to hold several brief lighting ceremonies on its grounds at sunset. The reform synagogue had an oil-based tiki torch menorah built and allows small groups of people to gather in the open air – masked and socially distant.

In California, the Silicon Valley Jewish community will hoist a 6 by 6 foot electric menorah at an outdoor mall in the city of Campbell. (The state has strict instructions to stay home, so there will be no public ritual.)

Large public menorahs aren’t entirely new. The Chabad Hasidic Movement has held public menorah lighting ceremonies in streets, parks and public squares of the city for years. 15,000 9-foot menorahs are planned to be erected around the world this year. It also adds 6,500 Menorah cars. (A Chicago-based Chabad is holding its first ever Menorah Car Parade.) But these were mostly Orthodox communities, a minority of American Jews.

Not that American Jews were giving up online venues. At IllumiNation, an event scheduled for Thursday, Jewish Conservative leaders will light the first Hanukkah candle from all 50 states online.

Hanukkah celebrates an ancient military victory in which a group of Jewish rebels rose against their Greco-Syrian oppressors, who polluted the Jerusalem temple with Greek gods. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabee and his brothers, the rebels drove the Hellenizers out of the temple and restored Jewish sovereignty. The rededication of the temple involved lighting the candelabra with a small bottle of consecrated oil, which miraculously lasted eight days.

Many American Jews find meaning in the holiday theme of the triumph of their beliefs over assimilation into a foreign culture.

“For me, the story of Hanukkah is the story of two worldviews,” Londy said. “The Hellenistic worldview was fatalistic. The Jewish view of the world is hope. If we light the Hanukkiah this year, it will be a declaration of hope. “

One reason Jews have shied away from openly public menorahs over the centuries is because of a sense of vulnerability, if not an utter fear of persecution. But with the pandemic raging across the country and synagogues closed for nearly ten months this year, many felt the need for a public gathering.

Bram Spira, 15, of Chapel Hill helps make large menorahs at Perry Whitted’s metal store in Durham, North Carolina. Photo courtesy Perry Whitted

Three large Menorahs by Perry Whitted sit in his metal shop in Durham, North Carolina. Photo courtesy Perry Whitted

“We are all reimagining Jewish life for the time of the pandemic,” said Rabbi Daniel Greyber of Beth El Synagogue in Durham, North Carolina (where I will be present at full disclosure.) “We need to be safe. We have to be outside. What do we do? How do we keep the community together? “

The Beth El Synagogue had a metal worker, assisted by the teenagers of the ward, forge three 9-foot by 6-foot oil-lit menorahs, which will be installed in three locations (two in Durham and one in Chapel Hill). The community will hold brief outdoor lighting services – with masks, social distancing, and a capacity of 25 people at each event.

“The ability to go out in public and say, ‘We can proudly celebrate our Judaism in public’ ‘is an indicator of how comfortable and accepted Jews are in America,” Greyber said. “I can see that we will do that in the years to come. Hopefully we can invite the whole community. “

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