Hanukkah in Ukraine: The challenge of celebrating Hanukkah

Ukrainian rabbi: ‘We launched a campaign to explain that the message of the menorah is to fight the darkness with light.’

Based on an article by Nitsan Keidar | INN

A week to go until the holiday of Hanukkah and Ukraine’s Jewish communities are preparing for the festival of lights. The heads of the Jewish communities face a dilemma: how do you celebrate when there is a non-stop crisis going on, when most of the country’s civilians spend most of the day in total darkness, and many of them are under curfew? Or in short: how can you celebrate Hanukkah while keeping up good relations with neighbors who don’t go out to celebrate during the crisis and are without light for most of the day?

In recent weeks, the community rabbis and Chabad emissaries began preparing to give out thousands of Hanukkah kits to the communities’ Jews in all corners of Ukraine. In the special kits: a Hanukkah book for children, Hanukkah Gelt (coins), an explanatory booklet for adults, a menorah and candles, dreidels, packaged sufganiyot (jelly donut), chocolate coins, and sweet snacks.

The Hanukkah kits are now being sent to the Jewish communities by JRNU, FJC and Chabad’s rescue center in Ukraine, and will be packed in each community by volunteers. In addition, the communities’ Jews will receive special food packages that will light up their holiday.

The Jewish communities’ biggest dilemma is whether or not to celebrate Hanukkah the way they do every year: by erecting big menorahs in public places. For the past decades, Chabad’s menorahs lit up public areas, in Ukraine and all over the world.

With the ongoing situation, the dilemma is substantial. On one hand, the will to celebrate the ancient Jewish holiday and to cheer up the communities’ Jews. On the other hand, during a crisis, the erection of a menorah can be seen as a lack of consideration for the rest of the citizens.

There are currently municipalities that have permitted Chabad emissaries and community rabbis to erect menorahs to show a sense of “business as usual” and not to let the situation darken the citizen’s moods. Despite this, some cities are not permitting any citizen to place signs of happiness and celebration in the streets.

“We got permission this morning from city hall and we will put up a menorah like we do every year in the center of town,” said one of the rabbis. “This time, as opposed to other years, we will light the menorah using a small gas balloon which will last for two or three hours.”

Rabbi Levi Stambler, the rabbi of Kamianske, received special permission to erect a menorah in the city. “We received special permission from the municipality and from the local military security to put up billboards to publicize the Jewish miracle, too,” says Rabbi Stambler, “On the signs, we are publicizing the Lubavich Rebbi’s message: a little bit of light defeats a lot of darkness.”

In one of the cities, which is seeing constant fighting, and is in total darkness for most hours of the day, the military governor decided to grant permission to the community’s rabbi to erect a menorah. “I will come to see the lighting of the menorah personally,” the governor told the rabbi, “We see a great importance in doing everything to save our citizens’ normal routines, traditions, and joy.”

Despite the special permission to light menorahs in certain cities, public Hanukkah parties will not be held, due to the situation.

Some of the Chabad emissaries have found a temporary solution, to put up a menorah in the synagogue’s front yard and not in the streets. “We explained to government officials and all citizens, that the Lubavich Rebbi taught us that light defeats darkness”, says Rabbi Avraham Wolf of Odessa, “Therefor putting up a menorah now gives a message of light and hope.”

Rabbi Wolf adds that “We launched a campaign to explain that the message of the menorah, this year even more so, is that everyone can light up the world by adding light, everyone where they are, and this is the best way to overcome hardships. If someone helps their neighbor heat up water or helps bring water to a neighbor who doesn’t have any, or gives warm gear to a person, and so on, he puts out light and makes the world a better place. In the meantime, we will all pray that by Hanukkah the crisis will end and we won’t have any dilemmas.

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