For Romanian Jews, a Roving Chanukah Caravan

December 10, 2014


It seems like the kind of magical myth more suited to a children’s story than modern Europe — a roving Chanukah caravan, traveling from town to town to light Chanukah candles, sing songs, and distribute delicious sufganiyot (jelly donuts).

But that’s exactly how JDC helps the Jewish community of Romania celebrate the winter holiday.

What makes Chanukah in Romania unique and distinguishes it from festivities in other countries is the fact that Romanian Jewry is spread across dozens of different communities. Some towns have only a handful of Jews, who often feel isolated and alone, especially during the holiday season.

‘The idea behind this event is to bring the spirit of the Festival of Lights to every community,’ said Israel Sabag, JDC’s Director for Romania, Bosnia, and Serbia, ‘and to every Jew in Romania.’

There are approximately 8,000 Jews living in Romania today. JDC provides social welfare services to elderly Jews and children in need, including food support, winter relief, medical assistance, scholarships, and other essential services.

Romanian Jewry endured great suffering during the Nazi and Communist era, and today, many Jews are seeking ways to reconnect with Jewish life. To answer that need, JDC offers a variety of programs that aim to strengthen Jewish life in Romania—summer camps, Jewish community centers and ‘JCC Without Walls’ activities, Limmud learning opportunities, Jewish festivals, and much more. 

A festive candle lighting is scheduled for Dec. 16 at Bucharest’s beautiful and historic Choral Synagogue. Set to be attended by both the new and the outgoing president of Romania, it will kickstart the week’s celebrations. 

The following day, seven groups of Jewish professionals and volunteers will take to cars and vans to travel from one Jewish community to the next in Romania’s special Chanukah caravan. Each Jewish child will receive a special Chanukah package with a dreidel, a menorah and candles, chocolate coins, and other festive treats.

‘This initiative is a powerful expression of the ancient Jewish principle: Kol Yisrael Arevim zeh lazeh’ – ‘every Jew is responsible for one another,’” said Zoya Shvartzman, a member of JDC’s team in Europe. ‘We are all one people, and no Jew is left behind.’

Karla, a young woman from a small town in Romania, has struggled with serious health problems for years. Every year, the Chanukah caravan visits her in her remote community, bringing her the joy and warmth of the holiday – and, most importantly, reminding her she is not alone.

“Thank you for making me feel that I am taken care of,” Karla said. “I am very happy now and want to share that happiness with all Jews, even the ones who are not close to me physically but are always close to my heart, prayers, and thoughts.”

The community will also mark Chanukah with a special Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Jewish Community Center in Bucharest, and a series of celebrations in cities with sizable Jewish populations like Iasi, Timisoara, and Oradea.

To bring the joy of the holiday to vulnerable elderly, groups of children will visit the Jewish community’s two old-age homes to sing songs and light Chanukah candles with the residents.

JDC’s global programs are made possible by the generosity of our supporters.

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