VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Drive-by menorah lightings, home delivery of latkes, and virtual parties are some of the things Metro Vancouver’s Jewish community is planning to adapt Hanukkah celebrations to comply with COVID-19-related orders.
A ban on in-person religious gatherings could be lifted Monday in time for the start of Hannukah on Thursday, but plans are already proceeding for how to capture the spirit of gathering while staying at a safe distance.
Ezra Shanken, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, says a tenet of the faith is guiding their response to public health orders.
“Our posture has been following the Jewish value that if you save one life you save the entire world. We’re very, very committed to finding ways to stem the tide of COVID-19,” he says.
“It’s no doubt a difficult time for all faith communities as we continue to find innovative ways to reach our congregants, our community members during what is a challenging time both in the COVID crisis and the year in general. This is our darkest time of the year, it’s definitely a time when we want to bring light into people’s lives. This is something that I know all of our clergy are working tirelessly on.”
Synagogues have moved services online, and people are continuing to rally to make sure people have what they need, both physically and spiritually. Shanken explains that a lot of the federation’s work has centered around making sure people who are hungry, unemployed, homeless, or struggling with their mental health are supported. Fundraising for this work is ongoing.
“People are under enormous strain in general, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say that much of the work that we’re doing as a collective community is trying to help people through this pandemic.
“We’ve been working tirelessly to do that type of work because I think that has been really the frontline issue that has been coming forward during this pandemic is people feeling that strain.”
Not being able to come together in groups is adding to that strain.
“It’s not uncommon on Hannukah for large groups of people to gather outside around large menorahs. Families gather to light menorahs and eat potato latkes and give gifts in their homes, that is obviously differet today. I think people are obviously having a much more limited Hannukah experience,” he says.
“That is no doubt challenging for any faith community right now, that we’re not able to be physically shoulder to shoulder during these cold times of the year is very difficult.”
But he says he’s proud of the “tremendous creativity” that has arisen.
“We have synagogues doing drive-by menorah lightings, we have community members delivering Hannukah packages to each other, our Jewish Community Centre is doing a beautiful Hannukah-long set of activities including a party online,” he says.
Ultimately, he is proud of the community’s willingness to follow the guidance and orders of public health officials as B.C.’s second wave surges.
“We are incredibly committed. I have to give huge credit to our rabbis, our spiritual leadership, who really do believe and want to do their part to save the lives of people who are incredibly vulnerable.”