January 16, 2021


Capital Region synagogues may be closed, but the congregations are finding creative ways to make Hanukkah celebrations warm and bright, a beautiful Festival of Lights breaking the gloom of this pandemic winter.

Hanukkah is celebrated this year from Thursday, Dec. 10 to Friday, Dec. 18.

On Saturday, Dec. 12, Temple Israel of Catskill’s Rabbi Zoe B. Zak will host an online Havdalah & Hanukkah Celebration that reflects her flair and gift for forging emotional connections across cyberspace.

“Havdalah is our way of saying goodbye to the Sabbath and greeting the new week,” Zak explained.

The ceremony can begin after believers are able to see three stars in the sky, signifying nightfall. A blessing is said over wine and another blessing is said over spices. The latter shows appreciation of the happy surprises and mysteries that add sparkle and depth to everyday life.
Zak of her synagogue’s Havdalah garden. She often picks basil or rosemary there to use in the blessing.

“Finally, most people extinguish the braided Havdalah candle in juice, but I use alcohol because it makes a dramatic flame before the light goes out,” Zak said.

Then, on Dec. 17, she hosts a Facebook Live Candle Lighting Hanukkah Nosh & Learn. Participants can light the menorahs in their own homes then dine on holiday treats like gelt (chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil) while they listen to and share Hanukkah stories.

“It’s still in the planning stage,” Zak told the Times Union. “But there will be Hanukkah stories from all over the world, maybe family stories that people can share.”

Schenectady’s Gates of Heaven congregation begins the holiday with a Dec. 10 Hanukkah discussion that includes how interfaith families celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah. One topic is, “To Tree or Not to Tree?” It also covers Hanukkah foods and symbols.

The Bethlehem Chabad invites everyone to Zoom in for the menorah lighting at Delmar’s Four Corners at 6 p.m. Dec. 10. Then at 3 p.m. Sunday, the Chabad offers a parade through town that onlookers can watch from their cars. Organizers promise circus performers and prepackaged Hannukah treats.

Troy’s Berith Sholom invites the congregation to join a Zoom menorah lighting throughout Hanukkah. Worshippers are welcome to join by phone. On Dec. 12, there will be an online Hanukkah party from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Not only does Albany’s Congregation Beth Emeth have Zoom menorah lightings, it also will be delivering Hanukkah gift bags. The website alerts worshippers to have the glow stick inside on hand for the Dec. 11 Hanukkah celebration.

Beth Emeth embraces the mandate to the faithful to “repair the world” with a fundraiser called “the mitzvah menorah.” Congregants donate to buy gift cards for the needy served philanthropic groups including Refugee & Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus, Inc. and Mary’s Corner (a charity for women with babies and toddlers).

Temple Beth El in Glens Falls near Lake George will have a Family Hanukkah Night at 6:15 p.m. Dec. 11.

Rabbi Mordechai Rubin is known for unique, creative