PEABODY – Chabad of the North Shore plans to bring a little light into our lives with public menorah lightings starting this Thursday. However, like most things during the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Festival of Lights will take place at a distance.
That’s because the gatherings around the pubic menorah lightings will take place virtually in the name of safety.
Menorah lightings with members of the local Jewish community, those who are not Jewish, and municipal officials are scheduled to be held in Beverly, Chelsea, Danvers, Everett, Lynnfield, Malden, Peabody, Revere, Rockport, Salem, Swampscott and Wakefield, according to Rabbi Sruli Baron of Tobin Bridge Chabad of Everett.
You must register in advance for the virtual gatherings, and you can do so at northshorechanukah.com, where you will also find information about the menorah lightings plus Zoom links to register in advance.
On the third night of Hanukkah, the city of Salem will hold its ninth annual Community Menorah Lighting in Lappin Park, with the lighting and a musical program live streamed with no in-person attendance. Salem’s virtual event will include greetings from Chabad of the North Shore’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, and state Rep. Paul Tucker, D-Salem.
“I can’t thank Rabbi Lipsker enough for continuing the Salem Community Menorah Lighting virtually this year,” said Driscoll, in an email. “It has been a very different year, but I am glad we can still celebrate the Jewish holidays. It’s also so fitting that the lighting takes place in Lappin Park, which pays tribute to the late Bob Lappin and the amazing Jewish philanthropic legacy he leaves behind.”
Peabody will be holding a small, brief ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 10, at noon at City Hall, according to the mayor’s chief of staff, Christopher Ryder.
“The lighting of the Menorah at City Hall is among Peabody’s most cherished holiday traditions,” Mayor Ted Bettencourt said in a statement. “Each year, members of the Jewish community and those of different faiths gather to commemorate Hanukkah with prayer, song, food and friendship. And although our ceremony will be different this year, it is perhaps more important than ever that we celebrate our shared values and unity.”
Swampscott’s menorah lightings will be live streamed on Facebook each night of Hanukkah, Baron said.
In a text, Swampscott Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald said, “The menorah has been a symbol of Judaism since ancient times and is the emblem on the coat of arms of the modern state of Israel. It is both fitting and deeply historical and civic that we celebrate our multicultural faith traditions and keep faith with E. Pluribus Unum – out of many – ONE.”
In addition to these public menorah lightings, on Dec. 16, at 4:30 p.m., Chabad is planning a Drive-In Hanukkah Movie Night at the Northshore Mall, 210 Andover St., Peabody, complete with a menorah lighting, movie, popcorn, latkes and doughnuts for each car. Reservations are required in advance.
Baron said Sunday he’s in the process of building Chabad’s Hanukkah Mobile, a pickup truck with a large hanukkiah built into the bed. This will serve as the menorah for the drive-in movie and will make visits around the North Shore.
When asked about the fact that Hanukkah is one of the few Jewish holidays celebrated publicly, Baron said the many-layered tale of Hanukkah, with its story of the triumph of the Maccabees over the Syrians, the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and the miracle of one-day of olive oil lasting for eight days, was meant to be an outward facing holiday. And, it’s meaning is universal.
“Many of the Jewish holidays and rituals are, like you say, are focused on family, the Jewish community and focused inwards,” Baron said. “Specifically, it was instituted as a public facing holiday.”
“It [the menorah] was instituted to be lit at either the window facing the street or the door. Many rituals are in the home, this ritual is in the home but pointed outwards.”
Why is the holiday so public facing? Baron said part of the reason has to do with the holiday being about light, with light in Kabbalistic and Hasidic thought being a metaphor for faith, joy and kindness in the world.
“It’s not something we want to hoard, it’s something we want to spread out,” Baron said.
The holiday transcends religious and cultural differences, Baron said, which is why so many embrace it with public lightings, including one coming up in Danvers.
“We are encouraging people to sit on their couch and see it on Facebook Live,” said Dutrochet Djoko, chairman of the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion Committee, speaking about why the lighting of the menorah in Danvers on Saturday at the library pavilion is so important to him, even though he is not Jewish.
“My personal philosophy,” Djoko said, “is whether you are Jewish or not, there is plenty that is special about Hanukkah, and what Hanukkah represents, because if you are in need of a little light in your life, which we believe in 2020 we all are, and we have witnessed some dark days,” Hanukkah is good for this. Djoko likes the idea of hope intertwined within the celebration.
Djoko quoted Jewish scholar Moshe Davis: “A candle is a small thing, but one candle can light another. And see how its own light increases, as a candle gives its flame to the other. You are such a light.”
As of Monday, menorah lightings and virtual gatherings listed on the website, northshorechanukah.com include the following: Malden, 4:30 p.m., Beverly, 5:30 p.m., and Wakefield, 6 p.m., all on Thursday, Dec. 10; Danvers, 6 p.m. and Salem, 7 p.m., both on Saturday, Dec. 12; Everett, 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 14; and Chelsea, 6 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 17.