Hanukkah is a holiday that's steeped in history, yet always evolving as we adapt cherished traditions to meet the moment we're living in. Below, you'll see stories, memories, photos, and thoughts on Hanukkah: Then & Now submitted by members of our Greater Boston Jewish community.
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One year, when I was a child, the napkins on the table caught fire with a floating ash on the first night of Hanukkah. My mother put out the emerging flames, but was so nervous about that possibly happening again that for the remainder of Hanukkah, she chose to wash out the kitchen sink, put foil down under the Hanukkah menorah, and then light the candles. That year, we lit the candles for the remainder of the week in that deep porcelain kitchen sink.
JCC Greater Boston
For more than 30 years, JCC Greater Boston has been the gathering place to celebrate Hanukkah. As our community grows and changes, JCC Greater Boston is committed to creating relevant and meaningful celebrations. Decades ago, that meant celebrating only in Newton. Today, that means celebrating in Newton, Arlington, Jamaica Plain, Easton, and Sherborn — meeting the entire community where they are.
Ariel Scheer Stein
Even as a kid, Hanukkah always felt special to me. It was the glow of the candles. It was being side by side with my family, who passed down not only a love of Hanukkah, but a love of being Jewish. All these years later, I bring that same love for Hanukkah and an unwavering Jewish pride to my family. And someday, my daughters will pass it on to the next generation.
We’ve made a lot of memories this pandemic, but my favorite memory was the first Hanukkah with my wife and daughter.
The first picture is us celebrating pre-marriage, pre-baby. We look so well-rested! That’s my grandmother's (or maybe great-grandmother’s, too) menorah in the second photo. My one memory of this day is that we had just decided to elope.
Jewish Teen Initiative (JTI)
Earlier this month, more than 40 teens put on their aprons at Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead and gathered at the “For Goodness Bake” Teen Service Day. Through a collaboration between Temple Emanu-El, BBYO North Shore Chapter, and Lappin Foundation, the teens made 110 apple pies along with holiday cards and bushels of apples for area shelters and service organizations! With support from the JTI Peer Leadership Fellows, and completely designed and run by teens, it was an inspiring day and an amazing experience – and continued the annual pre-Thanksgiving tradition that started 13 years ago on the North Shore! Community service days like these are made possible with support from CJP.
When I was a sophomore at Northwestern University, my friends and I attended a Hillel Hanukkah party. It was 1995. I entered my name into a raffle — and to my surprise, I won! The prize: a heavy and ornate Mickey Mouse menorah. I was so excited and I remember lighting it with my suite mates for the rest of the holiday. After graduation, I moved back to Boston and then to Connecticut and then back to Boston. And the menorah followed me. Every Hanukkah, I lit it. In my 30s, I moved even more — different apartments, different roommates, different jobs. And yet every year, I took out my Mickey Mouse menorah and smiled. I became a mother in 2013, and that’s when I introduced the Mickey Mouse menorah to my daughter. Of course, she loved it! We lit it together at home, with my parents, at the annual Hanukkah party we used to throw every year, in her preschool classrooms, in her kindergarten and first grade classrooms, and then together with friends and family on a screen, during a dark pandemic Hanukkah. This year, she is 8 and we will light it for the first time in our new home, with my parents. Soon after Hanukkah, my daughter will be fully vaccinated. The light burns even brighter this year.
Rabbi Marc Baker
Every Hanukkah, my family gathers around our six menorahs (we each light our own) with our candles burning in the window of our living room. By lighting these candles, we’re proudly sharing our family’s Jewish story with our neighbors and the world. I get to watch my children recite Hebrew blessings that have been recited for thousands of years, while using fun, contemporary menorahs; it’s a beautiful blending of traditions, of the old meeting the new.
And it’s a powerful moment when time stands still, even for a few minutes. I have four children, and like many families, my kids have school and practices and sometimes we’re not all together until later in the evening. This tradition helps to pause the hustle and bustle of our daily lives and gives us a powerful family ritual, even during the middle of busy weeknights.
One of the most beautiful things about Hanukkah is that it’s a “come one, come all” holiday, wherever you are and however you identify. There’s something in Hanukkah for everyone.
I have the unique fortune of celebrating, not only with my family, but with our community as well. It’s special to see the different ways that this holiday is celebrated by so many people. From candle lighting on Boston Common to the Museum of Fine Arts, we blend ritual with creative expression, combining the old and new in ways that are accessible and relevant for everyone. Every year, we rededicate ourselves to building a vibrant, inclusive community where everyone can find meaning and connection.
Epstein Hillel School
Every Hanukkah, starting in the 1980s, we had a school concert. Each grade performed for their families, and the faculty and staff even sang a song too! Since then, students have been looking forward to this tradition, which unfortunately came to an end during the pandemic. This year, Epstein Hillel School is celebrating Hanukkah by participating in the Hanukkah Building Challenge, Kislev Poetry Slam, and Fifth Night Tzedakah Project, and, of course, daily candle lighting.
My father, a Holocaust survivor, arrived in the United States following the war, along with his two brothers.
Papa Abrasha, my mother's father, arrived in this country in 1923. He was influenced by the Russian Revolution and remained a devoted communist for a good part of his life. Papa Abrasha would visit us frequently, and during those visits, my father and Papa Abrasha would argue over many things at our kitchen table. They disagreed vehemently, seemingly about everything.
This poem is about our kitchen. It's a poem about Papa Abrasha and my dad; it's a poem about Hanukkah and perhaps a little about life's lessons.
And it’s called Potatoes.
This is my family celebrating Hanukkah in New London, Connecticut, in the mid 1970s. I am the excited young fellow in the green kippah. We are also celebrating my sister’s birthday, which is why she is wearing a party hat. I still own that menorah, and it still drips wax or drops entire lit candles unexpectedly. The older women are my grandmothers, Ruth Zupnik (in white), and Victoria “Gonga” Glassenberg (in navy); my grandfather, George Zupnik, is wearing the jacket and tie. My father is in the red and plaid (I excuse him based on the '70s and color blindness). My mother is in the middle, with her signature hairstyle, and my cousin, Rick Gipstein, is standing behind me. The presence of both my grandfather and my very handy cousin suggests that we were getting complex, assembly-required presents that night. My father was good at assembling cocktails, but not toys. Only the three people on the left of this picture are still alive.
The Vilna Shul, Boston's Center for Jewish Culture
The Vilna Shul was well-known for its Hanukkah in the City celebration for young families living in downtown Boston. This Hanukkah, the Vilna is hosting a community-wide a cappella concert inside the historic sanctuary on Sunday, December 5. For the first time in almost two years, Manginah from Brandeis University, Shir Appeal from Tufts University, and Distilled Harmony from Northeastern University will return to the stage for their first community concert, along with guest performances by local middle and high school students.
My parents always dedicated one night of Hanukkah to giving back. Instead of a gift that night, my parents gave to tzedakah from the family. As we got older, my brother and I helped pick out toys for the local toy drive. This one night each year instilled in us a deep sense of giving back, which continues to shape our family's tzedakah today.
Baked Olive Oil Mini Doughnuts:
Growing up, Hanukkah celebrations were always preceded by a debate about frying. My siblings and I desperately wanted to eat all the classic fried Hanukkah treats, while my mom desperately wanted to avoid making our entire house smell like frying oil. She felt so strongly about not frying in the house that she would often fry latkes outside on the grill, standing ankle-deep in gray Cleveland snow. While my mom would make the sacrifice for latkes, we never won the battle on freshly fried jelly doughnuts. Get the recipe >
Spanakopita Poppers with Tzatziki Dip: Chanie Apelfelbaum
Hanukkah holds special meaning for me because I was born on the fifth night. Growing up, “Haneirot Halalu” (sung after lighting the menorah) would always segue into “Happy Birthday to You,” and I would blush with embarrassment as the attention was turned to me.
When I was 13 years old, my brother, Ari Halberstam, was killed in a terrorist attack on the Brooklyn Bridge simply for being Jewish. Each night of Hanukkah, as I kindle the menorah, I think of how grateful I am to have the opportunity to spread the light of our beautiful heritage through my platform. Every holiday recipe that I share is a means to celebrate our Jewishness with pride and gather families around the table, spreading joy and brightness to the world. I can think of no better way to honor my brother Ari’s legacy. Get the recipe >
JFS of Metrowest
One of our favorite Hanukkah traditions at JFS of Metrowest is partnering with the Holiday Dreams Foundation to bring joy and support to children and families who need it most.
Together, we collect wish lists from people in our Family Assistance and Immigrant Services programs. We ask people to be as specific as they can, and let us know their child's hobbies, interests, favorite toys, games, and TV shows. We also urge families to share educational (e.g., books and school supplies) and seasonal clothing needs.
Volunteer shoppers pay careful attention to the wish lists, often going above and beyond, shopping as if for their own family, and finding additional presents based on a child's interests. For example, last year, a shopper received a wish list with several warm items. After completing the order, the volunteer continued shopping for the family, purchasing extra blankets, winter clothing, and new bedding that matched the child's color and theme preferences. The program also offers parents the "gift of giving," delivering items unwrapped and allowing parents to participate in the ritual of preparing their children's gifts. One client, a mother of two, noted the program helped her return to her Jewish roots and connect her children to a meaningful holiday tradition. We look forward to many more years of making holiday wishes come true!
Yad Chessed is continuing a Hanukkah tradition we began last year. On Thursday, December 2, and Friday, December 3, we will be providing hundreds of delicious, kosher Shabbat meals to those in need. As a small social services agency rooted in the Jewish values of kindness (chessed) and charity (tzedakah), we are grateful — thanks to donors and volunteers in our community — that together, we can bring warmth and light to those who are struggling with financial hardship and isolation. This Hanukkah, we will once again show that our community cares, and convey: “You are not forgotten; you are part of a family.”
My dad was a first-generation American born in Chelsea to two Yiddish-speaking parents. He told us of his memories of going to local dances where there would be signs on the walls in Yiddish saying to not speak Yiddish, only English. He held that childhood mentality and never taught us (his kids) Yiddish, but I wish he had! Despite that, he got a real kick out of us singing "Oh Hanukkah oh Hanukkah" in Yiddish, and while he isn’t around to celebrate with us anymore, we all still do our best attempt at singing the whole song in Yiddish, beginning with "Oy Hanukkah oy Hanukkah."
My mom was also a JCC worker and she created a Hanukkah packet with a different reading for each candle. While she is no longer around to celebrate with us, we still read her packet, which is now super outdated talking about soviet Jewry and Ethiopia.
Jewish Family & Children's Service (JF&CS)
Hanukkah is all about resilience, beginning with how we held on and kept the fire burning for eight days when the oil was only supposed to last one. For more than 150 years, JF&CS has been helping individuals and families build a strong foundation for resilience and well-being across the lifespan.
In the early '90s, the JF&CS Resettlement Program hosted a Hanukkah celebration for Russian-speaking Jewish refugees, honoring their resilience.
Last year, as we endured the COVID-19 pandemic, our community showed resilience and found ways to support each other during Hanukkah, even from afar. Two young JF&CS volunteers made Hanukkah cards for our clients to lift their spirits.
A friend of mine has been hosting a yearly Hanukkah get-together since 1994. A bunch of us get together, light the menorah, eat latkes and other goodies, and just enjoy sharing the holiday together. In the 17 years since this tradition started, many of us have gotten married, and there are now children old enough to light the candles on their own. I love that this means that we just keep adding more and more menorahs to the mix, and we have more and more light. I've missed this tradition over the pandemic, and I'm really looking forward to being able to share our light together in person again soon.
A menorah is lit by seniors at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center for the Aged, circa 1950. Hanukkah connects us to those that came before, while inspiring us by shining light forward. Here’s to many more festive gatherings-- in 2021 and beyond--with the people who matter most. Chag Sameach and happy Hanukkah from Hebrew SeniorLife!
Millions of people across the globe are obsessed with The Great British Baking Show. At 2Life Communities, we have our own version of this show – The Great Latke Cook-Off. Starting back in 2011 at our Shillman House in Framingham, several residents at various 2Life campuses were paired with kitchen staff members to determine who can create the most delicious latke. Resident attendees blind-judge the results, and the winner gets a certificate, a Hanukkah gift, and of course, bragging rights. Just prior to the pandemic, this event was expanded so the winners of each campus cook-off competed a second time, to determine the 2Life Communities’ Latke Champion! The growth of this program reflects the continued interconnectedness of the entire 2Life Community.
Of course, this year and last, we have had to pivot due to the pandemic. For now, our wonderful kitchen staff continues this tradition by demonstrating excellent latke making and giving out samples to residents.
Temple Israel of Boston - FJECC
In 2015, children in the Frances Jacobson Early Childhood Center at Temple Israel of Boston (FJECC) were fortunate to be involved in the city’s first Jewish public art project: 8 Nights, 8 Windows. Under the guidance of local artist Tova Speter, each class at the preschool worked to create Hanukkah-inspired, stained-glass flames. They were installed in the windows on Berkeley Street in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.
This project was organized by the New Center for Arts and Culture and CJP, in partnership with the Boston Jewish Music Festival and the Boston Jewish Film Festival.
The importance of illuminating the lights of Hanukkah in windows around the city of Boston was not lost on the children at the FJECC. “The heart of Hanukkah lies in placing the light of the menorah in a window for all to share,” said Amy Bolotin, FJECC Director. “This simple act is practiced in early childhood classrooms year after year. Bringing light into the darkness is a human experience and a way to connect all cultures. It is inspiring to see Jewish children excited to share their culture with a city as diverse as Boston.”