Like much of our lives in 2020, Hanukkah will look a bit different this year.
But different could signify a return to the traditional celebration of the holiday, said Rabbi Levi Greenberg.
“The original context of Hanukkah was for it to be celebrated at home,” said Greenberg, who is a rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch of El Paso.
“The lighting of the Menorah, or the mitzvah ritual, consists of the lighting of one candle for each night of Hanukkah and should be done at home. COVID-19 pandemic or not, the holiday is meant to be observed from the safety of your home.”
Also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah this year begins at sundown on Thursday, Dec. 10, and ends on Friday, Dec. 18.
Of course, over time, traditions change and many Jewish temples, including those in El Paso, often hold public Menorah lightings.
This year, along with encouraging their members to enjoy a more traditional celebration with immediate family only, many temples are also getting creative.
Chabad Lubavich will host an “8 Nights of Hanukkah” event on Zoom with crafts, storytelling, cooking and more. Chabad Lubavich will also hold a drive-in- style Menorah lighting in the parking lot at West Town Marketplace, 6450 N. Desert Blvd.
Other Jewish temples in the Borderland, including Temple Mt. Sinai and Congregation B’nai Zion, are also planning virtual and drive-in events.
Contrary to popular belief, Hanukkah is not a Jewish version of Christmas.
It’s actually a celebration of the victory of a group of Jewish soldiers circa 150 B.C., against the ancient Syrian-Greek empire which took control of Israel and the Temple of Jerusalem. When the Jewish soldiers liberated the temple, a new altar was built and the temple was to be rededicated.
However kosher olive oil, with a seal from the Jewish high priest, was needed to light the temple’s candelabra, or menorah, which was required to burn throughout the night, every night. Soldiers found a small amount of oil, but it was only enough to burn for one day, yet it burned for eight days, which was the amount of time needed to prepare a fresh supply oil.
From that miracle, an eight-day Festival of Lights was declared to commemorate the event.
“We love eating and the best way to commemorate Hanukkah is through food fried in oil,” said Greenberg. “In Israel, traditionally we eat donuts, in Europe they have latkes, potato pancakes fried in oil.”
There is no right or wrong way to prepare a latke, Greenberg said, and here in the border, many members of El Paso’s Jewish community like to put their own regional twist on the treat by adding peppers or jalapeños.
“Latkes aren’t good for your nutrition or your weight, but we do it to celebrate the holiday,” Greenberg said.
Coping with COVID
Because of the pandemic, many people are bummed out that they won’t be able to celebrate with their family and friends this year. But, Greenberg says, there is a valuable lesson that Hanukkah can teach everyone about coping with dark times.
“The Menorah lighting has to be done in the evening when it’s dark outside – by a door or window,” Greenberg said. “What we can take from this is, when it’s dark, don’t complain, don’t thrash, don’t get nervous. Do something about it – light a candle. One candle is enough to banish a lot of darkness.”
Any act of kindness or positivity, including a smile, goes a long way as we wait for the frightening number of cases to decrease and a vaccine.
“One little thing, one little flame is a good thing,” he said. “But what you did yesterday is not enough. You have to do more, specifically during the time of a pandemic. Families are losing loved ones. But don’t allow that darkness to define life.”