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Households across Boston to find light in pandemic-era Hanukkah festivities

A pandemic can’t stamp out the Jewish festival of lights. Community organizations in Boston are prepared for virtual celebrations of Hanukkah, which begins Thursday evening.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jewish community organizations in Boston are preparing for virtual Hanukkah celebrations, which will begin on Thursday. PHOTO COURTESY ROANOKE COLLEGE VIA FLICKR

Boston cultural group Jewish Arts Collaborative is hosting four festive, interactive events to celebrate, said Ariella Honig, its director of communications and marketing.

In past years, JArts hosted a cooking event, “Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen,” during which local chefs present their takes on classic Jewish cuisine, Honig said. This year, it is partnering with local caterers and restaurants — including Blackbird Doughnuts, Catering by Andrew and Mamaleh’s Delicatessen — to bring festive meals to the community.

The group is also hosting its Brighter Connected art showcase, which includes eight window installations throughout Boston neighborhoods that reflect both the city’s communities and its Hanukkah spirit, Honig said.

“There’s a window in Dorchester at the Bowdoin Street Health Center,” Honig said. “That artist worked with student artists from Artists for Humanity and with the Bowdoin Street Health Center workers, so that work is a representation of those two communities coming together.”

The displays are designed to allow for social distancing and are best viewed at night when they are lit up, Honig added. Other locations include the Boston Cyberarts Gallery, the Freedom House and the Museum of Fine Arts.

JArts has also created an augmented reality app, “JArts Gallery,” which allows users to interact with art from around the world. 

“There’s tons of different animations and stories and ways to interact,” Honig said. “If you don’t want to leave your home and you want a different way to celebrate Hanukkah, that’s a pretty cool way.”

Meanwhile, children looking to celebrate can attend virtual storytelling and sing-along sessions in PJ Library at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston, according to its website. Families can learn how to bake menorah-shaped challah during one of the center’s virtual events Dec. 17.

This year’s virtual edition of “Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights,” hosted by JArts and the MFA, included a performance by composer Hankus Netsky and his band Ashkenaz Rising!, storytelling and a virtual candle lighting, as well as a performance by Boston Dance Theater, Honig said. It  was streamed on the MFA’s website, YouTube and on Facebook Wednesday evening.

On the first day of celebrations, Mamaleh’s Delicatessen in Cambridge and Lamplighter Brewing Company are hosting a Hanukkah Beer Dinner. Participants can pre-order and pick up a four-course meal Thursday at the brewery, then join a video call to follow along with the meal preparation.

The menu includes potato latkes, veal schnitzel, candied citrus and olive oil cake, all paired with Lamplighter Brewing Co. beer.

Michael Weingarten, a board member at the Boston Synagogue, said households can still celebrate the holiday traditionally despite the pandemic.

“The major celebration is lighting a menorah each night for eight nights … and it’s traditional to eat fried foods like latkes or sufganiyot, which is a kind of donut without a hole, and that has always been done at home as opposed to in a synagogue,” Weingarten said. “In that sense, not much has changed.”

Weingarten said his synagogue is deciding whether it will hold a virtual movie screening or virtual concert in the place of its annual party — a typical Hanukkah-week event among synagogues.

Rabbi Mayer Zarchi, executive director of Chabad Boston, said staying healthy is more important than the urge to celebrate.

“It’s critical that we, in my opinion from the Jewish tradition, abide by all of the provisions and guidances of our medical professionals,” Zarchi said, “and maintain social distancing until it’s safe to gather in numbers.”

Chabad will host a concert and communal candle-lighting through Zoom, where families will light their menorahs alongside — albeit virtually — other local households.

Zarchi added that Hanukkah’s central theme of “light and hope” is especially relevant in current times.

“Never give up. Never give in. Even in the most sensitive moments in your life when you feel that all hope is lost, you have that light,” Zarchi said. “That’s why we kindle the lights of the menorah, especially when it gets dark … so that we can create light out of darkness.”

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