Faced with restrictions on in-person gatherings, West End neighbours celebrated Hanukkah in a new way this year, by connecting online to share songs, stories, and blessings.
Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is an annual eight-day holiday known as the Festival of Lights. During Hanukkah, people of Jewish faith celebrate a great miracle that occurred, and the religious freedom it now represents.
The virtual event was coordinated by Gordon Neighbourhood House and the Jewish Seniors Alliance, and was co-hosted by local residents Alycia Fridken and Charles Leibovitch. Gordon Neighbourhood installed a large outdoor Chanukiah (a nine-branched menorah for Hanukkah) for the occasion, and participants received a gift bag with candles, chocolate gelt coins, and a toy dreidel. Fridken is a member of the neighbourhood house’s Community Advisory Board, and providing visibility to the Jewish community was important to her.
For many participants, the virtual gathering was also important to keep traditions alive. Jacob Kojfman attended the event with his partner and daughter Emily who is in grade two at nearby Lord Roberts Elementary School.
“Coming from a bigger Jewish city like Toronto, it can feel lonely in Vancouver, especially when it is hard to find a sense of community,” said Kojfman. “There are more Jewish people in the West End than I expected, and kudos to Gordon Neighbourhood House for providing an opportunity to let families pass on and continue traditions.”
In addition to a candle lighting and live singing by Charles Leibovitch, the online gathering also provided a much appreciated opportunity to bond. Elaine Fridkin has lived in the West End for more than 15 years, and while she has attended many Hanukkah events in the past, this was the first one she has participated in online.
“Being a senior is very isolating. Being a Jewish person in a non-Jewish neighbourhood is even more isolating,” shared Fridkin at the event, “This is a wonderful way to connect with people during these difficult times.”
For other attendees, the event provided a welcoming space to learn more about Hanukkah and Jewish traditions for the first time. Mary Brooks attended because she wanted to find out more about her neighbour’s traditions and beliefs.
“I attended because I want to learn about other people’s cultures and traditions. It has been so long since I have connected with my neighbours,” remarked Brooks, “Because of COVID masks, I have only seen eyes for the last few months, it is fantastic to see full faces and joyful expressions.”
The event also highlighted a shared narrative between Jewish people and other minority groups, specifically the importance of sustaining the customs and culture of ancestors. In addition to an acknowledgement of the unceeded Indigenous land that the event took place on, co-host Fridkin, drew attention to the Government of Canada’s reprehensible laws which historically criminalized important Indigenous events such as potlatches with mandatory jail sentences. It was not until 1951 that the ban on potlatches was repealed allowing communities to legally restore their ancestors’ ways. Fridken also highlighted the comparable plight of the Queer and Trans communities, as the West End is an important hub for Western Canada’s 2SLGBTQ2+ community.
The event brought together many Jewish neighbours who hadn’t met each other before, and by the end of the evening many participants hoped that they would all be able to meet in person in 2021.