Not even the pandemic quarantine could keep the congregants and clergy of Temple Judea from celebrating Chanukah with gusto and excitement. Each family, in their own homes, brought their family Menorah to the virtual celebration on each of the eight nights to light their candles, with the entire congregation singing the blessings together.
All this was done via ZOOM where Rabbi Todd Chizner, and Cantor Deborah Jacobson led the services. Congregants could see and hear each other and everyone felt part of the celebration.
Rabbi Chizner explained the history of Chanukah, which was about a great battle. Around the year 165 BCE, the Jewish nation of Israel was invaded. The foreign invaders took control of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and desecrated it. The Jewish people triumphed and immediately began to clean the temple to prepare it for dedication. The first ritual act was the kindling of the eternal light, a lamp that was meant to stay lit forever. However, there was only one small container of holy oil that had not been desecrated. Instead of lasting for only one day, the lights remained lit for eight days giving the Jewish people enough time to make new holy oil. The temple was thereby rededicated and that is truly what Chanukah is all about to this day: Dedication.
This history explains why Chanukah Menorahs have places for eight candles plus a Shammus which is the candle that lights all of the others, starting with one candle on the first night, adding one each night and ending with eight candles on the eighth night.
Outdoors, on the Temple’s front lawn stands a nine-feet-tall electric Menorah. Each night of the holiday, a student of the religious school, accompanied by his/her family, lit the appropriate number of “candles” for that night. When that significant ceremony was completed, each family scurried back to their cars to join the virtual Chanukah celebrations in their warm homes.
The eight nights of Chanukah were filled with joyous singing, prayers and appropriate activities led by Rabbi Chizner and Cantor Jacobson. On the first night, Rabbi Chizner explained the background of the holiday. On another night, a Chanukah trivia game was led by Education Director, Lauren Resnikoff, testing everyone’s knowledge of the holiday. One night, Cantor Jacobson led the group with joyous singing. Friday evening services followed the lighting of the Chanukah candles and Saturday evening services observed Havdallah, the ending of Shabbat. The youngest folks in the Temple family had a special program one evening of songs and Chanukah games, led by Cantor Jacobson and Lauren Resnikoff.
Because so much emphasis of this holiday is on oil, many customs have arisen, mostly concerning food. One of them is serving and eating donuts, which of course are fried in oil. Rabbi Chizner, (also a master chef !), demonstrated how to make donuts (“sufganiyot“ ). Another culinary custom is serving latkes, potato pancakes which are fried in oil.
On the eighth and last evening of Chanukah, members of the Social Action Committee presented a program to the congregation describing the work of this committee. The committee is currently working on projects involving food and winter coat collections for distribution.
The holiday ended with a fervent prayer that next year, Chanukah will be celebrated in a time of good health and that covid-19 will be a long-ago memory.
Temple Judea is located at 333 Searingtown Road, Manhasset NY 11030. (516) 621-8049 www.temple-judea.com; New members are welcome! The first year of membership is free.