DeKALB – A second holiday season with COVID-19 limitations didn’t stop a local synagogue from celebrating the Festival of Lights this year.
Rob Feldacker, president of Jewish synagogue Congregation Beth Shalom in DeKalb, said Hanukkah – also spelled Chanukah – this year began at sundown Nov. 29 and the 2021 holiday ended Monday at sundown. He detailed an online Zoom candle lighting each night at 5:45 p.m., with one evening featuring the congregation’s choir singing holiday songs, and the final night of Hanukkah featuring a “design your own menorah” showcase.
Feldacker said the menorah designing showcase, which is typically held in person, has been a congregation tradition for several years, although it was the second one on Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also said the synagogue’s services are masked and distanced, with capacity limited to the first 30 people, and festivities still look a little different than they have in years past.
“It was pretty low key,” Feldacker said.
Feldacker said anyone in the congregation can design their own menorah, as long as it has eight candles representing each night along with the shamash, or ninth, candle. He said some menorahs of note this year included a magnetic one built as headpieces, ones built out of Legos and ones shaped like spaceships.
“Creativity is the goal here,” Feldacker said.
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the Maccabean Jews recovering Jerusalem in the beginning of the revolt against the Seleucid Empire thousands of years ago and rededicating the Second Temple. It also celebrates a miracle in which an amount of oil to light the menorah at the temple that was supposed to last for only one night ended up lasting for eight nights.
The holiday’s placement in the Hebrew calendar usually falls around the same time as Christmas and is a well-known secular holiday, although it doesn’t hold the most religious significance in Judaism, Feldacker said.
“We sort of turn it into a fun children’s celebration now,” Feldacker said.
Fried foods like latkes, or potato pancakes, and jelly doughnuts, or sufganiyot, are common foods that are eaten during Hanukkah as a nod to the importance of oil in the holiday’s observance. Feldacker said the synagogue usually hosts an annual Hanukkah party that includes these foods, along with a Hanukkah shop that sells goods like chocolate coins and dreidels – although the pandemic affected those celebrations as well.
“This year was really short,” Feldacker said, referring to the shop. “We sold the chocolate coins and that was about it.”
Feldacker said the congregation didn’t have the usual Hanukkah party this year or the year before because of the pandemic.
“Because it’s just now that the kids are starting to get vaccinated,” Feldacker said. “Maybe next year we’ll all be back again.”