This Chanukah, thousands of Jews in the former Soviet Union will celebrate the annual Festival of Lights by partaking in holiday celebrations and menorah lightings, concerts, holiday meals, and Jewish cultural workshops at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s (JDC) network of Hesed social welfare centers and Jewish community centers. Scores of JDC-trained volunteers of all ages are leading these Chanukah activities, a growing trend in the former Soviet Union.

“It’s no small miracle that Chanukah’s theme of bringing light to the darkness is being fully realized today by enthusiastic volunteers and thriving Jewish communities that have emerged a full generation after the fall of Communism. Our celebrations across the former Soviet Union, and around the world, are reminders that Chanukah’s message of perseverance and triumph in the face of the odds is still resonant today,” said David Schizer, JDC CEO.

In Ukraine, activities in Kiev range from Chanukah-themed art workshops to a Maccabee Revolt-focused game of laser tag, teaching teens and their parents about the holiday’s origins. An estimated 350 people will attend a Chanukah celebration in the Gomel region of Belarus in addition to a workshop makingsufganiyot – a traditional holiday donut – that will be held by the local Hesed social welfare center. In Bobruisk, children will attend the “Chanukah Miracle” event combining Jewish history and traditions with competitions and quizzes put together by local volunteers.

At the Eliahu Hesed social welfare center in Georgia, Chanukah celebrations and study sessions, drum and fire shows in Tbilisi and Rustavi, and volunteers visits to the homes of bedridden Jewish elderly to present them with gifts will mark the holiday. In Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the Jewish community will have daily menorah lightings and also a dance party with approximately 100 people attending. In Karaganda, Kazakhstan, a community-wide celebration for around 150, and a dreidel-making workshop in Pavlodar, are planned.

In isolated locations in Siberia and the Russian Far East, community-wide Chanukah festivities in Krasnoyarsk and Barnaul, and a week of good deeds in Novosibirsk, including delivering gifts to needy Jews and making and delivering latkes to lonely homebound seniors are scheduled as well.

Jewish youth across the region, participants of JDC’s growing Active Jewish Teens youth movement, will lead holiday performances, volunteer efforts aiding poor Jewish families and elderly, and will attend Chanukah themed Shabbat retreats to learn more about the holiday and how they can contribute to local celebrations in their home communities.