COVID Challenges Hanukkah Traditions

Rafael Gold’s (10) Hanukkah is typically spent with extended family in Massachusetts. Lighting candles, exchanging gifts with extended family, eating custom foods are the typical traditions that make up Hanukkah for Gold. 

But due to COVID-19 concerns about traveling and spreading the virus, he will not be seeing extended family this year. Instead, his plans for this year consist of spending time with immediate family and making customary foods such as gelt, a small chocolate coin, and latkes, potato pancakes cooked in oil. 


A photo of Raphael Gold standing to the right of the frame in a blue sweatshirt next to a menorah with 2 candles lit and Dalia Fermaglich standing next to him on his left
Raphael Gold (10) and his little sister Dalia Fermaglich take a picture celebrating Hanukkah in front of their menorah in 2017.
Photo courtesy of Raphael Gold

Gold and his family feel disappointed but understand the harsh circumstances COVID brings. As a way to remain connected during COVID, Gold will use zoom as a way to see extended family.

 “My favorite Hanukkah memory is probably going to see my grandparents and cousins,” Gold said. “I don’t have a specific thing, but just hanging out with my cousins, and celebrating with them is probably my favorite memory.”

Another part of Gold’s traditional celebration of Hanukkah is attending his synagogue, Kehillat Israel in Lansing. According to Rabbi Matthew Kaufman, even though they are not planning a public celebration at the synagogue for Hanukkah, he recognized that Hanukkah is generally a home-based holiday by nature.

“For Kehillat Israel congregation, COVID presents a challenge that has in some ways brought us closer together,” Kaufman said. “We care for each other, and are always on the lookout for anyone in need of assistance. As I like to say, we may be physically distanced, but we remain socially connected!”

Blue and white menorah in the center of a table with all the candles lit
Photo of Menorah with all candles lit on the last night of Hannukah courtesy of Unsplash

To remain socially connected, the Greater Lansing Jewish Federation is going to have a socially distanced Menorah lighting event at a park where people can watch from their parked cars.

Additionally, Tabitha Bladen (11) and her family have had to adjust their typical Hanukkah tradition of seeing extended family during the holiday to now facetiming and sending gifts. 

Because her favorite things about the holiday are celebrated at home, she expressed that smaller adjustments are made than expected. She also mentioned how her Hanukkah is more of an inside celebration, referring that Hanukkah could be celebrated anywhere.

“We went to Florida last year during the holidays and brought the menorah with us. It was fun and I liked being able to bring a bit of our traditions with us,” Bladen said. “I also just love lighting the candles in general because the one we have has been passed down through the family and it’s really pretty.” 

Gold remains hopeful for future Hanukkah’s in the event that COVID no longer prevents him from traveling in the future. 

“I am looking forward to finally seeing my grandparents and cousins in person, and being able to celebrate with them,” Gold said. “hopefully I will be able to see and celebrate with my extended family members, in person, rather than online.”