Hanukkah adapts for COVID safety; menorahs, dreidel and latkes are OK, large gatherings are not

Michelle Gallardo Image
Friday, December 11, 2020
Hanukkah 2020 adapts for COVID safety, like so many other holidays
The first night of Hanukkah will have many things Jewish families look forward to: latkes, menorah lighting, dreidel games and gifts. But large gatherings are off the table this ye

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Jewish families look forward to Hanukkah traditions like menorah lighting, dreidel games and lots of latkes. They'll just have to enjoy them remotely, as COVID nixes large gatherings for yet another holiday.

On a street lined with Christmas decorations, the Levitts' stands out. But there's no blow up Santa there.

"My kids were pretty young and they were wondering why are we always the dark house? And we said, you know what? We don't have to be," said Liz Levitt.

What started with a homemade giant menorah nine years ago has since transformed into an impressive display that's attracted the attention of not just their Naperville neighbors, but people across the western suburbs.

"This year, more so than ever, I think it is so important for us to bring light," Levitt said. "That's what this festival is about. It's the festival of lights. And there has been so much darkness this year. I wanted to share joy."

Like every holiday since March, celebrating Hanukkah is not without its challenges. Out are the big, communal celebrations. In are pre-ordered Hanukkah care packages, like those being offered at the Chabad Lincoln Park pop-up, loaded with everything from a menorah and sufganiyot donut decorating kits to latke-filled challah.

"We're trying to find a different way. To adapt. This is an easy way to bring cheer. You don't need to come in, you can stay outside and we bring the cheer to you," said Brocha Benhiyoun, Chabad of Lincoln Park.

And so as Jews around the Chicago area gather to light the menorah Thursday evening, to celebrate their recapture of the holy temple in Jerusalem, Rabbi Mendy Benhiyoun hopes the will also remember that out of darkness comes light.

"Use the moment we are going through as a message," he said. "Maybe a message that we have to find a deeper way of living. A deeper way to reach out to people and be kind and celebrate."

Hanukkah continues through December 18, and though public menorah lightings have been canceled throughout the area, there are several virtual options and even a drive-thru lighting in the South Loop on Sunday.