Chanukah Programs Brighten Jewish Connections in Poland and Romania

A cooking class in Warsaw … a Chanukah caravan across the Polish countryside … a piano café in Bucharest – these are just a few of the Chanukah activities organized by JDC this week in Poland, Romania, and beyond.

These holiday events are a small part of JDC’s year-round Jewish programs, which mix traditional elements with innovative, pluralistic options for people of diverse backgrounds looking for a way to reconnect to Jewish life. And they are indicators of the remarkable resurgence of Eastern European Jewish communities only two decades removed from Communist-era restrictions on Jewish education and practices.

In Warsaw, parents and children had fun learning to make holiday treats (and even more fun sampling them) at their Chanukah cooking class! Shabbat dinner this week will feature holiday foods cooked by community members, and a Saturday night gathering will have activities for all age groups. And participants will write their own interpretation of the Chanukah story at a Rosh Chodesh women’s study program (a custom adopted in many communities to mark the start of each Hebrew month).

Meanwhile, a Chanukah caravan has been spreading holiday cheer across the Polish countryside, bringing menorah lightings, dreidel games, and holiday quizzes to town and villages like Katowice, Poznan, and Gdansk that are a part of Jewish history.

A more elaborate caravan, called the Hanukiada—a JDC-supported tradition in Romania for many years—is as energized as ever. In each of that country’s three main regions, some 20 members of the largest Jewish communities (Romania has some 38 in all!) travel from town to town for a week, while Jews living in the most isolated areas gather in neighboring towns for similar joyful celebrations.

A more recently adopted custom prevails at the Bucharest JCC, where Jewish holidays are deliberately celebrated “in more than one way.” This year’s events include a traditional Oneg Shabbat on Shabbat Chanukah (day seven), as well as a Piano Café, and a “Great Show” featuring a special guest singer from Israel, along with a children’s march of the candles and performances by the JCC choir and local talent.

For the second consecutive year, JCC youth groups are kindling Chanukah lights all around the city of Bucharest—in schools, cinemas, coffee shops, and shopping malls. And adults and students alike are deriving extra meaning during this Festival of Lights by bringing holiday warmth and home-made gifts to isolated and lonely elderly Jews.

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