Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead would hold an indoor Hanukkah celebration with all the menorahs lined up shining on one long table. After a year on Zoom in 2020, the temple will return to an in-person menorah lighting this year on the final night of the holiday, at 4 p.m. Dec. 5.
But instead of lining up menorahs on one table, attendees will set up their menorahs individually on smaller card tables usually reserved for mah-jongg to allow for social distancing, according to temple educator Rabbi Allison Peiser.
“I’m happy we can do something together,” Peiser said. “I’m sure some people will be disappointed that all the menorahs are not at the same table.”
COVID-19 has resulted in similar changes to menorah-lighting celebrations across the North Shore as synagogues contend with the evolving issue of how to celebrate Hanukkah during the pandemic. In many cases, synagogues are returning to in-person events, but under coronavirus restrictions.
This year, “It’s just going to be scaled-down,” said Rabbi Richard Perlman of Temple Ner Tamid of the North Shore in Peabody. “It’ll be a joyous outdoor function event rather than something inside.”
The Ner Tamid candle lighting will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 30, at the front of the synagogue at 5:15 p.m.
“We used to have a big lighting ceremony,” Perlman said. “Everybody would bring their Hanukkiah into the temple.”
Things changed dramatically in 2020.
“Everybody was home,” Perlman recalled. “We had a virtual celebration with all of our families … everybody tuned in, singing zemirot (Jewish hymns).
“This year is much better, in person, singing together, schmoozing together … We are not doing the kind of things we used to do [before COVID-19] – inside with a carnival-type atmosphere – we will not do that this year. Hopefully next year.”
This year, he said, “We wanted to do a Hanukkah celebration with no [minimum] number on it, we want to have hundreds outside, just do something outside.
“I think it will be nice,” he said, “as long as the weather is nice.”
In Gloucester, Temple Ahavat Achim will hold a public menorah lighting of its lobster trap menorah on Tuesday, Nov. 30 at 5:30 p.m. The event will feature a live band, latkes, hot apple cider, and Hanukkah gelt for the children.
Chabad of Peabody is planning both outdoor and indoor activities for Hanukkah.
Like Ner Tamid, the Peabody Chabad also will hold an outdoor menorah lighting, on Sunday, Nov. 28, the first night of Hanukkah. It will take place at the Chabad house, 682 Lowell St., with another menorah lighting planned at Peabody City Hall on Monday, Nov. 29, at noon.
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman noted that the outdoor menorah lighting will “not attract congregants if the weather is lousy – miserable cold, rain.” Yet, he said, “It would be nice if there’s a little snow. It wouldn’t hurt. It would actually be pretty.”
Schusterman also is planning some indoor events, including menorah-making and cookie-making at the Chabad house. In the pre-COVID days, the menorah-making event took place at a local Home Depot, but that was not possible this year due to restrictions on gatherings.
Fellow Chabad Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore in Swampscott said “many of the events” he is planning for Hanukkah “are outdoors and really that’s helpful in terms of COVID, being COVID-conscious … Any food we’re going to serve will be prepackaged.”
Other details on food at Hanukkah events are still being worked out. Perlman said the Ner Tamid menorah lighting would “maybe” have latkes. Peiser said she thought there would be doughnuts, “maybe to-go,” at the Emanu-El celebration.
Rabbis encouraged people to come out nevertheless.
“Light overwhelming darkness is not just a cliché, but it’s reality,” Schusterman said. “Be strong, be brave, put on a mask if you need to feel safe. Come on out, let’s celebrate Hanukkah as loudly and boldly as possible.”
“The bottom line is, we’re going to celebrate like we haven’t celebrated in years,” Perlman said, “as close to normal as possible. We’re still being cautious until the World Health Organization, the Peabody Health Department, the CDC, everybody says the pandemic is over. Hopefully they will soon. Once they declare it’s over, we’ll start coming back to normal.”
For now, he said, “It’s not over. They haven’t declared that. We have a responsibility, all of us, to do our best, keep people smiling and enjoying the holiday in a safe, intelligent manner. It’s what we’re doing.”