With the arrival of shorter days and colder temperatures, it’s almost time to take out a heavy blanket — and a menorah. Chanukah runs this year from Nov. 28 to Dec. 6, and across the region, organizations are preparing to spark some seasonal light. Here is a sampling of community events.
Chabad of Squirrel Hill, Chabad of Greenfield and Chabad of the South Hills
To start the holiday off right, Rabbi Yisroel Altein of Chabad of Squirrel Hill, is inviting community members to publicly light a giant menorah on the corner of Beacon Street and Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill. The 4 p.m. event is the first of several Chabad-hosted Chanukah programs.
On Monday Nov. 29, at 5 p.m., Altein and other local leaders will join Mayor Bill Peduto for a public menorah lighting outside the City County Building. Then, on Nov. 30, beginning at 5 p.m., the annual Menorah Car Parade will make its way through the East End before concluding at 4315 Murray Ave. for a public menorah lighting and festival. Organized by Chabad of Greenfield and Chabad of Squirrel Hill, the festival, which begins at 6 p.m. (following the car parade), will feature the lighting of a large ice menorah followed by a fire show by Ohio Burn Unit.
Chabad of the South Hills will also present a “Fire and Ice” event, including a giant ice menorah and fire show, live music, a gelt drop, latkes and doughnuts, at 1801 Dormont Avenue on Dec. 1 at 5 p.m.
Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is promoting a series of virtual and in-person events for Chanukah celebrants of all ages. On Nov. 28, from 9:30-11 a.m., Foundation Scholar Rabbi Danny Schiff will present a special Chanukah seminar online. Later, on Nov. 30, from 5-7 p.m., Federation’s Young Adult Division is hosting a happy hour (location will be announced at a later date) with the first drink free for those who register in advance.
Temple Ohav Shalom
Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt of Temple Ohav Shalom is encouraging Jewish Pittsburghers to begin the holiday with an extra spark. On Nov. 28, from 5-6 p.m., Weisblatt will join community members at McCandless Crossing on McKnight Road for a public menorah lighting.
The North Hills gathering is the first of the congregation’s numerous holiday events, packaged as “The Second Annual Eight Days of TOS.” The activities are all multiaccess and open
to the entire community, Weisblatt said.
Among those programs is a craft event; a “family fun night”; a Men’s Club whisky tasting; and a virtual book talk with Rabbi Rachel Mikva of the Chicago Theological Seminary, author of “Dangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-Critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.”
On Dec. 1, Ohav Shalom, in partnership with Menemsha Films and Chai Flicks, is hosting a community film festival. With content available for each night of Chanukah, participants will gain access to 11 films, along with exclusive filmmaker discussions, that can be viewed from a phone, computer or tablet, Weisblatt said.
Temple David in Monroeville is also planning on maximizing each night of Chanukah through an array of programs and games, bringing “laughter, light and lots of fun to the Eastern suburbs,” Reena Goldberg, Temple David’s president, said.
For starters, a different family will lead online candle lighting for the congregation every night of Chanukah, and the Sisterhood is selling Chanukah supplies and raffling off baskets filled with holiday treats.
The congregation will also host its first annual Chanukah Games, Goldberg said, where members will be divided into teams to participate in a variety of holiday-themed challenges to earn points and win prizes. The festivities will culminate on the eighth night of Chanukah with an outdoor menorah lighting and refreshments.
“We’re inviting everyone to bring their menorah to our Chanukah Shabbat evening service, and they can roll their own wax candles before the service,” Goldberg added. The next morning, for Shabbat services, “everyone is wearing their ugly Chanukah sweaters and receiving yummy chocolate gelt.”
At Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, a mix of in-person and hybrid events should also warm some hearts.
On Dec. 3, from 5:30-6 p.m., Temple Sinai is hosting “Hanukkah Tot Shabbat.” The in-person event is an informal way to teach children about Shabbat and the holiday, said Tami Prine, Temple Sinai’s marketing and communications director.
Later that evening, the congregation is holding a hybrid Mostly Musical Shabbat Hanukkah Evening Service, where in-person attendees will be able to take home fresh latkes made by the Brotherhood.
Finally, on Dec. 3, from 8-10 p.m., Temple Sinai will host “Hanukkah Young Adult Party: Dreidel Tournament & Mystery Gifts!” Prine described the in-person event as a “super cool holiday party” where participants will spin dreidels and win chocolate gelt. Registration and masking is required for each of Temple Sinai’s in-person programs.
According to Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Daniel Fellman, the programs are a way to remind people that Chanukah is a chance to celebrate historic and modern rededication.
“The Maccabees regained control of the great Temple and began by repurifying,” Fellman said. “Each year as we light the candles, we rededicate ourselves to lives of light. This year especially, as we finally see the beginning of the end of the pandemic, Chanukah beckons as a time for us to return, renew and rededicate.”
Chabad of CMU
Rabbi Shlomo Silverman, of Chabad of Carnegie Mellon University, is looking at this year’s holiday as an opportunity to spark action.
“Last year most people were home for Chanukah,” Silverman said. “It’s hard not to be together, especially on the holidays. The fact that we can be together and celebrate as a Jewish community should give us that extra boost of energy we need throughout the year.”
Every night of the holiday, Silverman will be hosting candle lighting ceremonies. He said the smaller gatherings, which will mostly occur indoors, allow people to light their own menorahs in quieter spaces. In addition, a mega-lighting event is being planned for Dec. 2 in which the CMU Bagpipe Band and university officials will join with students near the Fence (CMU’s unofficial university billboard) at 5 p.m. for a much larger party, Silverman said.
Beth El Congregation of the South Hills
Chris Benton, Beth El Congregation of the South Hills’ executive director is anticipating “an outdoor extravaganza” this Chanukah.
Benton encouraged participants to come to Beth El’s parking lot on Dec. 1 for an evening complete with tiki torch menorah lighting, strolling klezmer musicians Janice Coppola and Julie Harris and donut decorating (and eating).
“We are planning a meaningful indoor social action activity during the event as well,” Benton added. Supply cost for the social action project is $18/person or $36/family. Call 412-561-1168 to RSVP.
J-JEP, Congregation Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom Congregation
J-JEP, Congregation Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom Congregation families are invited to play games, receive a Chanukah goodie bag and enjoy yummy treats at the 12th annual Latkepalooza. Scheduled for Dec. 5 from 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m., in the tent behind Beth Shalom, the program is free to all; however, there is a suggested donation of $10 per family.
Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh
For those seeking sufganiyot, look no further than the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s “Chanukah Celebration: Light Up Night 7.” Scheduled for Dec. 4, from 4:30-5:45 p.m., the program will include crafts, games, jelly doughnuts, free giveaways, a chance to celebrate Havdalah together and to join Temple Sinai’s Fellman in lighting the giant menorah on Forbes Avenue outside the Squirrel Hill JCC.
The Dec. 4 program will benefit neighbors, explained Rabbi Ron Symons, of the JCC’s Center for Loving Kindness. Attendees of the outdoor event are asked to bring new unwrapped toys, and a week after the Chanukah celebration a group of “Jewish upstanders” will travel to the Christian Church of Wilkinsburg to help deliver the collected toys, Symons said.
The toy distribution is intended to not only develop camaraderie, Symons continued, but to “build that sense of what we know neighbor can be — that it's a moral concept, not a geographic term — and it's us stepping beyond our own Jewish roots and our own Jewish culture and Jewish faith, which we embrace, and we uphold, and we adore, and saying that we can be a part of something much bigger.”
For the JCC, Chanukah is a chance to strengthen spirits, and also to invite a little competition. On Dec. 6, JCC staffers in both Squirrel Hill and the South Hills will decorate doors throughout their buildings based on the theme “JCC State of Mind: Happy, Healthy, Whole.”
Symons said the doors will be judged by students from the JCC’s pre-kindergarten classes.
After 20 months of the pandemic disrupting so many activities, the JCC staff is eager to celebrate Chanukah with colleagues, friends and the community again, said Rachael Speck, the JCC’s director of day camps and children, youth and family division. This year especially, she added, people are “craving community and craving connection.”
Though the pandemic is not yet over, as Chanukah nears, Symons said, “the key is that we celebrate, that we take our Jewish culture, that we can look back in time, 2100 years ago, at a time when the Jewish community was suffering, and we can see the light that came out of that story then, and how generation after generation we've been lighting the light. We're not going to stop. And that works for our family. It works for our kids. It works for our staff. It works for the community at large.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.