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Hanukkah 2020 kicks off with virtual gatherings and celebration from afar

Flickr/Lukas Koster (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah began Thursday evening at sundown. The eight-night “Festival of Lights” is usually marked with family gatherings and shared meals, but of course, celebrations are going to look a little different this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Mike Steklof, director of Jewish experience at the Buffalo Jewish Federation, spoke to WBFO about how the federation plans to observe a holiday with ancient origins in new ways.

“Normally we host many, many Hanukkah parties and other Hanukkah events in-person,” Steklof said. “So, we actually, in collaboration with some wonderful partners around Buffalo, produced 275 ‘Boxes of Light’ [this year] that have activities for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah for people to enjoy and participate in with their family.”

The majority of the boxes went to young adults and families with children under 12, Steklof said, and the federation also distributed 60 boxes to Jewish residents living in group homes across Western New York.

“We really decided to do this because we really wanted to provide some illumination in peoples’ life during this time when we can’t come together and celebrate.”

In a sign of the times, the federation will also be hosting several virtual gatherings, including candle-lightings, cooking experiences and a special event for Jewish teens.

“Since the beginning of COVID, at the federation we’ve been really thinking about how we can still gather and really engage folks even if we can’t be in person,” Steklof said. “For me at least, it’s been a lot of fun figuring out how to do things, and a lot of what I do currently at work is create virtual experiences for people in the Jewish community.”

Hanukkah continues each evening through nightfall next Friday, Dec. 18.

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.