Hanukkah 2021: Celebrating the holiday after a year of adversity

The ancient Hebrew calendar determines when Chanukah is celebrated – not the Gregorian calendar – which is why the dates change from year to year. In 2021, the holiday will be celebrated from sunset on November 28 to sunset on December 6. The party often falls around Christmas, but the two have nothing in common.

The former ruler, King Antiochus IV, abolished the Jewish religion and forced the Jews to worship the Greek gods. The Maccabees, an army made up of followers of the priest Mattahias and his son Judah Maccabee, rose up and drove out King Antiochus IV. The Jews reclaimed the temple in the 160s BC, which the holiday honors.

One of the cornerstones of Hanukkah celebrations is lighting the menorah on each of the eight nights of the holiday. Lighting the menorah reminds Alana Rudkin of Pittsburgh that a little light can dispel a lot of darkness.

“I would encourage people to connect with their inner light, making room for self-reflection and growth,” Rudkin said.

Rudkin volunteers with the Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh, a Jewish community group that works to enrich the lives of youth and adults in the Pittsburgh area.

Rudkin’s family celebrations have also changed due to the pandemic. She usually makes latkes, which are fried potato pancakes, with her family, then invites friends over to share the food.

“My dad wanted us to grate the potatoes by hand until our fingers bleed,” Rudkin said.

Last year, she decided not to invite any friends over, but still made latkes with her parents at home.

Jews traditionally fry their latkes in oil to commemorate the miracle of the long-burning oil of the Maccabees.

Family celebrations online

In 2019, the family of New York resident Lisa Gaetjens hosted a party for dozens of family and friends, filled with traditional foods like latkes and sufganiyot, which are donuts a la fried jelly.

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Her family decided to take their party online last year, which was a smaller affair.

“It is very disappointing that we cannot be physically with our families for this holiday, but it is also the best option,” said Gaetjens.

His mother-in-law coordinated the food to be delivered to the home of each participant so that everyone can enjoy the same meal together.

Honor the traditions

Rabbi in Residence Avram Mlotek of the Marlene Meyerson Jewish Community Center in New York participated in virtual celebrations last year, with a latke cooking class and menorah lightings offered online.

Meyerson believes Jews are ready to celebrate online because they had to do so at the start of the pandemic. “When the Passover was there and we had to celebrate in isolation, I reminded people that in fact the first Passover was also celebrated in a kind of quarantine,” Mlotek said.

In the Bible, Mlotek said, the angel of death swept through Jewish homes, but because they marked their homes and stayed inside, they were safe.

As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, Mlotek is no stranger to darkness and despair. He hopes to reach a wider audience of current and future generations of Jews to celebrate Life and Hanukkah this year.

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