Temple Ohav Shalom is not ready to put aside the dreidels and donuts, but the Allison Park congregation has come up with some fresh ways to mark Chanukah this year.
While the COVID-19 pandemic will force most of us to be indoors and to social distance from friends, families and our traditions this holiday season, Ohav Shalom is offering “8+ Days of Chanukah” events intended to appeal to a variety of ages and tastes.
The nine days of celebration will begin on the first night of Chanukah and conclude on Friday, Dec. 18.
“Especially as it’s getting darker, Chanukah is the one chance we have to really engage people before they hibernate for the next few weeks in December and January,” said Ohav Shalom Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt.
On the first night of Chanukah, Thursday, Dec. 10, the congregation will host a virtual community menorah lighting. Other events throughout the week include a Kabbalat Shabbat service, a family trivia night, a religious school virtual baking event, a Women of Temple Ohav Shalom latke baking demonstration and a virtual dreidel competition. The nine days of programming also will feature a Dec. 16 presentation by Roberta Rosenthal Kwall, author of “Remix Judaism: Preserving Tradition in a Diverse World.”
Kwall is the Raymond P. Niro Professor at DePaul University College of Law and the author of several books including “The Soul of Creativity” and “The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition.” Not surprising for a law professor with an undergraduate degree in religion, she has a special interest in the intersection of halacha and Jewish tradition.
“I realized I wanted to write a book about American Judaism because I’m passionate about Jewish tradition,” Kwall told the Chronicle. She is particularly interested in the polarization between the “ultra-Orthodox” approach to Judaism and the number of American Jews not participating in any rituals, she said.
When writing “Remix Judaism” Kwall was primarily thinking of members of non-Orthodox Jewish communities who may not adhere to all Jewish laws but still proudly identify as Jewish and want to see Judaism transmitted to the next generation.
“They don’t really think much about what that should look like, how it should look and what they need to do in order to accomplish that goal,” Kwall said.
To transmit Judaism, one need not strictly following halacha as set forth by rabbis in the Talmud, she said, but “you do have to do more Jewish — you have to be practicing more Judaism.”
It is important to focus on the joy of the ritual being observed, and on those rituals that are personally meaningful, Kwall said. As an example, Kwall pointed to lighting candles on Shabbat, a basic Jewish tradition which is easy to explain to children. Even if families are unable to perform that ritual before Shabbat begins at sundown, liberal Jews who do not have a problem with striking a match on Shabbat should feel comfortable lighting their candles after sundown with their children, she said.
“It will teach your kids that this is Shabbat,” Kwall said. “This is a unique day in Jewish tradition and kids who grow up with a Shabbat tradition replicate that tradition.”
Remixing Judaism to accommodate modern needs is not watering down the religion, she said, “but doing enough of the tradition that you are transmitting it.”
A Shabbat service on Friday, Dec. 18, featuring Molly Dillon, Noemie Levy and Taylor Lustig — writers from the young teen collection “Yes She Can” — will conclude Ohav Shalom’s nine days of celebration.
Dillon attended high school outside of Chicago with Stefanie Greene, cantorial intern at Temple Ohav Shalom, and worked in President Barack Obama’s administration along with Levy and Lustig. During her time in the White House, Dillon served on the Domestic Policy Council in the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity, which helps develop and execute the president’s domestic policy agenda.
“Our team worked on a variety of civil rights-related issues, from voting rights to LGBTQ equality, gender equality to homelessness, labor issues, foster care, criminal justice — you name it, we probably worked on it,” Dillon said.
Dillon, who developed the idea of the book “Yes She Can,” and is credited as the compiler, hopes that it will inspire young women to go into public service.
“At the end of the book, we actually included what we call ‘A Girls Guide to Getting into Government,’” she said. “It can be a little confusing, unclear, nebulous of how to get a job at the White House. It’s not something where there is a path that is laid out for folks. It’s not as clear as going to medical school, where you know exactly what steps to take.”
Throughout the book, there is a theme of “taking a little bit of like magic and extending it as far as you can,” similar to the Chanukah miracle “of one night’s worth of oil lasting for eight nights,” Dillon said.
“In my chapter, I talked about how I pulled off this event to roll out a bunch of new foster care policies,” she said. “We didn’t have a budget — meaning not a limited budget, we literally had zero dollars — and how you can take this very small finite resource that you have and make the biggest impact possible.”
Following Friday’s Shabbat service, during which the trio will speak, Ohav Shalom is hosting a talk-back session with teens that will focus on public service.
While many of the events included in the synagogue’s “8+ Days of Chanukah” are directed at the congregation’s members, both Kwall and Dillon’s appearances are open to the public and can be accessed through Ohav Shalom’s Facebook page. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.