A Global Festival of Lights: Reflections on Chanukah from Around the Jewish World

Chanukah is a time to celebrate the hope and resilience of Jews everywhere. In this spirit, we bring you these Chanukah reflections from around the JDC world.

By The JDC Community | November 29, 2021

A Chanukah celebration at the JDC-supported Hesed social welfare center in Odessa, Ukraine.

FSU

Vladimir Bagriy, 67
Location: Minsk, Belarus
Retired construction engineer and JDC client

What does Chanukah teach us about the unique time we live in? What lessons should we take from this holiday as we face the challenges of today’s world?

Chanukah is a holiday of light, joy, and unity, and this is what we lack so much of  during the pandemic. Just because you’re under quarantine doesn’t mean you should close yourself off from the world around you, abandon communication with others, and fall into depression. Quite the opposite. In everything, we must find positive moments and give this positive energy to friends and relatives, as is customary on Chanukah. Most importantly, we must not withdraw into ourselves, but instead honor the traditions of our people, support each other, and accept life as it is. I am so fortunate that JDC helps me and my family do this each day.

Vladimir Bagriy

Describe a Chanukah tradition unique to your community, or a favorite Chanukah memory that you cherish.

My most vivid Chanukah memory comes from childhood, and it warms my soul just to think of it. I remember how my grandmother fried latkes and donuts, and how the neighborhood children would come running to the kitchen. The whole family would gather around a large table. The adults sang songs, the children played savivon (dreidel), and we always lit candles. My grandmother taught us that children should be given money on Chanukah. Today, my family tries to continue these traditions. Despite the fact that my children are adults and live separately, they come to my house on Chanukah. My wife always does a lot of Chanukah preparation; she cleans the entire house and serves traditional Chanukah dishes, creating a festive atmosphere for everyone. 

Chanukah gives us hope for a bright future, no matter how old we are.

How does JDC’s work reflect the lessons and values at the heart of this holiday?

Chanukah gives us hope for a bright future, no matter how old we are, but JDC makes this hope a reality each and every day. They help me with a kind word, giving us positive energy and reminding us that we’re part of a larger Jewish family and are not alone. Throughout the pandemic, JDC did not leave us alone with our problems, but stayed in touch, providing all kinds of assistance. I am so thankful for the smartphone that JDC gave me, because now I can talk to my friends and participate in different programs. This phone contains my entire world. On my phone, I can communicate with my friends, who, like me, have felt isolated during the pandemic. Thank you, JDC, for taking care of elderly people like me. During this difficult time, your assistance is priceless.

Anastasiya Ivanova

Anastasiya Ivanovna, 35
Location: Minsk, Belarus
Veterinary sales manager and JDC volunteer

What does Chanukah teach us about the unique time we live in? What lessons should we take from this holiday as we face the challenges of today’s world?

Even a tiny glimpse of hope can ignite so much change. On Chanukah, we start small by lighting one candle, but this light brings even more light. It’s the same with hope. There is always a way out of the darkness and our primary goal is to keep looking for hope, hold on to it, make it bolder, and work harder; then, new doors will open, and new solutions will follow.

Describe a Chanukah tradition unique to your community, or a favorite Chanukah memory that you cherish.

Growing up in Vitebsk in the 2000s, I remember the community spirit we shared. There was so much inspiration, but not so many outlets for our creativity. Nowadays, anyone with a phone can make a movie. But back in 2004, with only a few cameras in the city, we made a Chanukah movie, submitted it to a Jewish film festival, and went to Minsk to present it. That was an incredible experience.

And last year, I organized a Chanukah fundraiser for my community. It was a completely new experience for me and the attendees, but it was exhilarating for everyone to do something completely different.  

JDC reminds me of the Maccabees, who have been an inspiration for Jewish people throughout history.

How does JDC’s work reflect the lessons and values at the heart of this holiday?

JDC’s shows us that we are not alone. Though there are many Jews in the world, we share one goal, we know what it takes to reach it, and we’re willing to help each other. JDC reminds me of the Maccabees, who have been an inspiration for Jewish people throughout history. No matter where we live, this is our community and we will strive to care for each other.

Yulia Zhigailova, 36
Location: Minsk, Belarus
AJParents and AJTorah coordinator

Yulia Zhigailova (center) with her husband and children.

What does Chanukah teach us about the unique time we live in? What lessons should we take from this holiday as we face the challenges of today’s world?

In these modern times, the ancient lessons of Chanukah have not lost their meaning. Because  we face pandemic-related restrictions, the ability to live a full Jewish life and be part of a community has been put at risk, just like our ancestors. When the pandemic started, I was both frightened and excited that, just like the Maccabees, we had to adapt to difficult conditions.. During the pandemic, we preserved by any means necessary our Jewish values and lifestyle. We tried something that we’d never done before, launching online programs and activities, and they were a success. And we learned that we have to live by Jewish values, savor the moment, and take care of what matters most —  our families, our homes, and our community.

Describe a Chanukah tradition unique to your community, or a favorite Chanukah memory that you cherish.

Chanukah is our favorite holiday. We look forward to it and prepare for it with all our might. We invite friends to light Chanukah candles and talk about the miracles that have happened in our day-to-day life. Arina, my eldest daughter, always waits for the moment when she can finally taste sufganiyot. Chanukah is the first Jewish holiday she remembers celebrating, and its traditions are imprinted in her memory. So, when asked about her favorite holiday when she was in kindergarten, Arina did not hesitate: Chanukah. But she was also very upset that no one knew about it. (After all, she didn’t go to a Jewish school.) But the very next day, she told everyone about Chanukah and brought the kids some delicious sufganiyot. It was a joy for her to share Chanukah with her classmates.

During the pandemic, we learned that we have to live by Jewish values, savor the moment, and take care of what matters most.

How does JDC’s work reflect the lessons and values at the heart of this holiday?

I fully identify JDC with the Maccabees. They and their global staff are like an army, and they show us that nothing is impossible. The most important thing is our community, and JDC gives us the opportunity to remain part of the Jewish community, even in the most difficult times. Just like the Temple of Jerusalem, Jewish life in the post-Soviet countries has revived, thanks to the support of JDC. And what is happening now with Jewry all over the world, in many respects, is in large part because of JDC’s global efforts. Chanukah candles remind us to believe in miracles, that it’s important to see the light, even in the most difficult times. Our light is the opportunity to help those in need, preserve Jewish traditions, educate future Jewish leaders, develop Jewish education, and feel that we are part of one big Jewish community. JDC empowers us to do this each and every day. 

Tamara Boronina, 83
Location: Odessa, Ukraine
JDC client

Despite all the problems we now face, we must hope for better — for a miracle to happen.

What does Chanukah teach us about the unique time we live in? What lessons should we take from this holiday as we face the challenges of today’s world?

Despite all the problems we now face, we must hope for better — for a miracle to happen. Wars and bad times always go away, and better times always come. Jews know this truth best of all.

Describe a Chanukah tradition unique to your community, or a favorite Chanukah memory that you cherish.

I had a very hard childhood, so I cannot share some joyful Chanukah tradition. JDC and Odessa’s Hesed social welfare center have become my Jewish family and they have brought Jewish traditions back into my life. Every Chanukah, there used to be a big concert for us clients on the second floor of the Beit Grand JCC, where Hesed is located. People from Hesed would perform songs in Yiddish and Russian and dance for us. After the concert we got special treatment — delicious sufganiyot. Of course, the Hesed day center was like a mini-home for us, too. We gathered together, shared stories, and listened to lectures and discussions on Jewish holidays. I wish we could get those times back and continue this wonderful tradition of gathering together for holidays. I miss those times and hope we will get back to normal life.

Tamara Boronina

How does JDC’s work reflect the lessons and values at the heart of this holiday?

To me, the real meaning of Chanukah is captured in the word “miracle.” What JDC has accomplished during this pandemic is nothing short of a miracle. Elderly people like me are stuck in their homes. When everything shut down in March 2020, we were full of fear: What would happen to us? How would we buy food and medicine? What if we got sick? The news on the TV was not encouraging. But JDC never left us alone. Irochka, my JDC homecare worker, continued to see me several hours a week, and she’s never stopped. She kept buying me groceries and the medication I needed, cleaned my small apartment, and cooked for me. I pray to G-d that JDC will continue to help Jews like me for many more years to come. Let them continue working miracles!

LATIN AMERICA

Eleonora Sucharczuk

Eleonora Sucharczuk, 32
Location: Montevideo, Uruguay
Executive Director, Tzedaka Foundation Uruguay

What does Chanukah teach us about the unique time we live in? What lessons should we take from this holiday as we face the challenges of today’s world?

Chanukah is approaching and with it comes those things we yearn for all year: miracles, light, conviction, courage, and the victory of the weak over the strong. The pandemic brought many challenges, including the need to stay at home, so we yearn for these things even more.

On Chanukah, we have the obligation to light candles in the door, at the window, or on the patio, ensuring that everyone can see. In the context of the pandemic, Chanukah offers us an excellent opportunity to light up the whole world from our homes. To be that light, that hope, is so necessary at this time.

Describe a Chanukah tradition unique to your community, or a favorite Chanukah memory that you cherish.

In our community, there are many activities and celebrations surrounding the holiday — from public lightings in squares, where young and old come together, to celebrations for young people.

When I was four or five years old, I wanted to light the candles with my mother. I dragged over a little stool so that I could reach the menorah. My mother took a picture, and I cherish this picture. It helps me to remember the light we all have, and carry with us, from a very young age.

To be a light, to be a hope for others, is so necessary at this time.

How does JDC’s work reflect the lessons and values at the heart of this holiday?

JDC was essential to the creation of the Tzedaka Foundation of Uruguay in 2003. Since then, it has continued to support us in different areas. As a worldwide humanitarian organization, JDC has shown a great interest in helping us better the lives of hundreds of poor people in our community. As two humanitarian organizations, we are united by common values and objectives: to protect our most vulnerable, and be the light and the miracle that Chanukah teaches us to be.

Eduardo Milgram

Eduardo Milgram, 41
Location: Caracas, Venezuela
President, Hebraica JCC,

What does Chanukah teach us about the unique time we live in? What lessons should we take from this holiday as we face the challenges of today’s world?

The Chanukah miracle was based on hope. The Maccabees triumphed over the Greeks and the oil lasted eight days. This victory required hope, and so does surviving the pandemic.

In times like these, we must learn from Chanukah. During the pandemic, when so many are in despair, faith and hope are more important than ever. 

Describe a Chanukah tradition unique to your community, or a favorite Chanukah memory that you cherish.

At our local Moral y Luces Herzl Bialik Jewish day school, Chanukah is always a very joyous occasion. I remember, in particular, what it feels like when parents and children gather to decorate the menorah. Then, we each take our menorahs home and light them throughout the eight days of Chanukah. This is a special tradition and always a beautiful moment.

I connect JDC’s work with the leadership and initiative of Matisyahu and his son Yehuda the Maccabee, who led the rebellion against the Greeks.”

How does JDC’s work reflect the lessons and values at the heart of this holiday?

I connect JDC’s work with the leadership and initiative of Matisyahu and his son Yehuda the Maccabee, who led the rebellion against the Greeks. Like them, JDC does very important work in our community, supporting us and always lending us a hand to overcome adversity. They help us maintain our Jewish life for the future.

EU/AA

Emma Kárpáti

Emma Kárpáti, 20
Location: Budapest, Hungary
Hanoar Hatzioni youth leader and program organizer at JCC Budapest-Bálint Ház

What does Chanukah teach us about the unique time we live in? What lessons should we take from this holiday as we face the challenges of today’s world?

Chanukah symbolizes light in the darkness. Almost two years ago, when the pandemic started, there was a lot of fear, a lot of assumptions, and a lot of unknowns. As time passed, we learned more about the virus, and we learned how to live with it and protect ourselves. So, when vaccines appeared — which I consider a miracle — this was the light at the end of the tunnel for many.

Describe a Chanukah tradition unique to your community, or a favorite Chanukah memory you cherish.

A few years ago, Rabbi Tamás Verő, one of our most popular rabbis here in Budapest, began what he calls “SuperRabbi.” Each day of Chanukah, he puts on a Superman uniform and visits several families, lighting candles with them. The only rule is that there must be 8-10 kids present, which motivates families to invite friends over, too. Though this beautiful tradition couldn’t happen last year, the JCC assembled “Chanukah boxes” and delivered them to hundreds of families in the community. People received candles, and other festive Chanukah supplies and educational content, allowing them to celebrate even when they were apart.

Even in the darkest times, JDC is always there, performing miracles.

How does JDC’s work reflect the lessons and values at the heart of this holiday?

Even in the darkest times, JDC is always there, performing miracles. From caring for Holocaust survivors and families in need to helping the unemployed, for many, JDC often means hope and light in the darkness.

Chanukah is very much a family and community holiday. Last year, we missed out on all the community celebrations and had to stay alone in our homes, without friends and loved ones. All of JDC’s programs— both in JCCs and summer camps — are extremely needed and appreciated by many.

Dr. Luciana Friedmann, 44
Location: Timișoara, Romania
JCC Timișoara director, president of Timișoara Jewish Community, and Board member of FEDROM

What does Chanukah teach us about the unique time we live in? What lessons should we take from this holiday as we face the challenges of today’s world? 

Dr. Luciana Friedmann

I think Chanukah is very much about tikvah (hope). It is a story with a happy ending where the small and weak triumph over the big and strong. I think we need happy endings in our life. Chanukah also teaches us  that, at least sometimes, if we follow our values and beliefs, our efforts will not be in vain.  

In these strange pandemic times, I think it’s very important to celebrate Chanukah with children and transmit to them the beauty of our traditions, giving them hope. 

When we were children, my generation experienced communism and had a very different outlook. Today, children are losing their sense of wonder, and we cannot permit that! This Chanukah, we must make a special effort to keep this spirit alive for our children.

Describe a Chanukah tradition unique to your community, or a favorite Chanukah memory you cherish. 

Every Chanukah, I love traveling with my local choir to communities throughout the country — a tradition we call Hanukiada. Since last year, though, we haven’t been able to do this. 

In particular, I cherish the memory of travelling with Israel Sabag, JDC’s country director for Romania, to these small but vibrant cities. These trips have such a positive impact on people’s lives, lifting their souls and bringing them joy. 

When the pandemic is over, we need to honor this tradition, and I hope we’ll have a chance to do it. 

JDC’s work in our community is strongly connected to the two core values of Chanukah: hope and Jewish continuity.

How does JDC’s work reflect the lessons and values at the heart of this holiday?

JDC’s work in our community is strongly connected to the two core values of Chanukah: hope and Jewish continuity. 

Each and every day, JDC’s help allows us to save elderly lives throughout our country, bringing them light and hope. In these times of fear and isolation, it is now more important than ever to be close to one another, whether physically, by phone, by email, or by simply lighting the Chanukah candles we offer to each other. 

JDC has given us the chance to have beautiful events for families and children, to pass down the light of Chanukah to the next generation. Because of JDC, our community feels like a family — we treat each other with concern and care. Yes, we sometimes disagree with each other, but always from a place of love. JDC is such an important member of this family, and it has never abandoned its Romanian cousins. They have given us hope and optimism in the most difficult of times. The Jews of Timișoara are all grateful for this. 

Salomi Kalwade, 21
Location: Mumbai, India
Jewish community volunteer

During the darkest days of the year, we light the menorah, igniting a flame within us.

What does Chanukah teach us about the unique time we live in? What lessons should we take from this holiday as we face the challenges of today’s world?

The story of Chanukah has become particularly pertinent because of the unprecedented times we live in. 

Though we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel, the pandemic isn’t over, and many people are anxious about what our “new normal” will look like. Despite the dreadful events we’ve all experienced, we are all working to triumph over the pandemic, and this gives us hope for the future. During the darkest days of the year, we light the menorah, igniting a flame within us; this gives us the spiritual strength to combat any obstacle.

Salomi Kalwade

Describe a Chanukah tradition unique to your community, or a favourite Chanukah memory you cherish.

Growing up, I always looked forward to celebrating Chanukah, especially because my great-grandmother used to fly all the way from Israel to celebrate with us here in India. She made each day feel like a Chanukah celebration because she always showed such warmth, even in the most arduous situations. My memory of her has intensified my faith in Judaism.

How does JDC’s work reflect the lessons and values at the heart of this holiday?

Since childhood, with my relatives spread around the world, I have managed to hold on to a few Chanukah traditions that are unique to the Bene Israel community. Each year on Chanukah, members of the Jewish Youth Pioneers and JDC staff members organize Khai Fest, a community event of hope, celebration and excitement. Khai Fest has helped my community maintain a sense of belonging and togetherness. Even the pandemic hasn’t stopped us from keeping Khai Fest as lively as ever. 

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