The spiritual significance of Hanukkah — the concept of miracles, the redemptive power of light, the practice of goodness — are needed more than ever in this pandemic year, Jewish leaders in Colorado Springs say.
In upcoming days, local Jewish communities are bringing those messages to public settings.
“It’s really a celebration of humanity, and it’s very appropriate now,” said Jeff Ader, president of the board of Temple Beit Torah, which serves about 90 families. “It’s overcoming overwhelming challenges and huge odds — like we’re doing now.”
The most important thing for people not familiar with the holiday to know about Hanukkah, which begins at sundown Thursday and continues until sundown Dec. 18, is that it’s not the “Jewish Christmas,” as some mistakenly think, Ader said.
“It just falls at a similar time of year,” he said.
Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights, occurs between late November and late December on the Gregorian calendar and marks the ancient Jews’ victory over an oppressive, tyrant king and the subsequent rededication of the temple in Jerusalem. In purifying the temple and lighting the menorah for their celebration, the Jewish people found a jar with only enough oil to keep the flames going for one day. The oil inexplicably burned for eight days.
Being a light in a dark world is an important theme for 2020, said Michael Schoening, president and Torah teacher at The Olive Tree Messianic Synagogue in Colorado Springs, which last year merged with the Gates of Zion.
With increasing rates of depression, suicide, domestic violence, job loss, business closures and other repercussions from the pandemic, “We’re going to see a long-term effect on this planet,” he said.
Schoening is encouraging people to realize they have a purpose in life and a reason to keep moving forward, even though it seems like a very dark year.
“Hannukah is about a small group of 300 men (during the Maccabean Revolt) standing up and taking back their rights, owning their identity, like people trying to find who they are this year,” Schoening said. “Those who serve the God of Israel find that this year they need to unify and become a light in the world, to give the world hope.”
COVID has tried to extinguish the light, said Rabbi Jay Sherwood, who leads Temple Shalom, the city’s largest synagogue with 250 households. During Hanukkah, which literally means rededication, “We can rededicate ourselves to bringing light into the world,” he said.
That can be done by acting ethically, taking care of others, not degrading people who are different than us, speaking positively about others, helping those in need and abiding by public health orders to help keep people safe, Sherwood said.
Jewish families typically light menorahs at home during Hanukkah, sing hymns, play traditional games, exchange gifts and eat foods fried in oil, such as potato pancakes and doughnuts, to recall the ancient miracle.
Local synagogues are hosting the following events this week.
A public Hanukkah sing-a-long will be held on Temple Shalom’s YouTube channel Thursday night at 6 p.m.
The event will kick off a new virtual program, Eight Crazy Nights. The talk show-style presentation will air each night of Hanukkah with a different theme and guests.
Rabbi Jay Sherwood will light a menorah, while those watching at home can do the same. Nightly themes include children’s Hanukkah stories read by an elementary school teacher, holiday dessert cooking, arts and crafts, a virtual cocktail party for adults and others.
Temple Beit Torah
A virtual Musical Celebration of Hanukkah, will be held online for the public from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Live concert performances will be presented via Zoom by pianist Abe Minzer, who teaches music at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College; Cynthia Robinson, first violin with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic; and others. A Menorah lighting, story telling and a sing-a-long also will be featured.
It’s the first time for such a public event, which also will serve as a fundraiser for the synagogue. President Jeff Ader said like other organizations, the synagogue has seen financial contributions dwindle during the pandemic.
“We wanted to do something positive, creative and innovative, out of the shards of 2020,” he said. “We want to bring people together for a feel-good kind of time to have fun, be connected and celebrate.”
Tickets are $20 per family, which can be purchased online at beit-torah.org, by sending a check to 522 E. Madison, Colorado Springs, 80907, or calling 573-0841. An email address is necessary to receive the concert’s Zoom link.
Chabad Lubavitch of Colorado Springs and Southern Colorado
Sometimes Rabbi Moshe Liberow has been the sole driver in an annual parade of vehicles with 3-feet tall menorahs on top. This year, there will be a record 13 vehicles in the parade, which starts Sunday, the fourth night of Hannukkah, at 3 p.m. at the Jewish Center, 6616 Delmonico Drive.
Cars will travel downtown to North Nevada Avenue, head east on Pikes Peak Avenue, then turn north on Academy Boulevard and head back. Four cars participated last year.
“We’ve never had so many cars,” said Liberow, who leads the Hasidic community, which this year is celebrating its 20th anniversary in Colorado Springs.
After the parade, at 4:45 p.m., the community will light a pure silver menorah using olive oil.
“They do this in Jewish communities all over the world to spread the message of Hanukkah,” Liberow said. “We’re promoting goodness and kindness; each light represents having a light in the world.”
Menorahs also will be on display at Chapel Hills and The Citadel shopping malls in Colorado Springs.
For more information, call the Jewish Center at 634-2345.
The Olive Tree Messianic Synagogue
Saying “Jesus didn’t do Christmas, he did Hanukkah,” Torah teacher Michael Schoening believes everyone, no matter what faith, can find rich meaning in Hanukkah.
The Messianic community will host a free, public event, "A Light to the World," from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at 1824 Dominion Way.
COVID practices will be required, including wearing masks, staying 6 feet apart and washing hands. Participants are asked to bring pre-packaged food to share.
Worship music led by Joshua Morgan will be followed by a teaching from Schoening on becoming a light in the dark world. A menorah-lighting ceremony will end the prayer segment.
A kosher potluck meal will start at 4:30 p.m., followed by games for the family.
The event also will be streamed live on the synagogue’s Facebook event page.