In a year in which COVID-19 has forced many longtime traditions to be broken, a Muhlenberg Township synagogue on Sunday made sure to keep an important one going.
The pandemic forced Chabad-Lubavitch of Berks County to be creative, which led to the community drive-thru Hanukkah concert held Sunday in the Jewish organization's parking lot. The event was put on in conjunction with Reform Congregation Oheb Sholom and Kesher Zion Synagogue, Wyomissing.
The event drew dozens of families in cars. They heard a band play Hanukkah songs and watched the grand menorah lighting.
In a normal year the Berks County Jewish community holds public menorah lightings at indoor locations, most notably the Berkshire Mall in Wyomissing. That wasn't possible due to social distancing requirements and limits on crowds inside.
But while holding a celebration inside wasn't possible this year, that was no reason to call the menorah lighting off entirely, said Rabbi Yosef Lipsker.
"Despite all of our challenges, nothing is going to stop us from celebrating Hanukkah," he said. "We wanted to make it as normal as possible."
The pandemic has made the holiday even more important this year, as it gives Jews the chance to look back at their history and all they've overcome, Lipsker said.
The pandemic is a dark time in many ways, he said, but one that they can survive.
"We've done it for thousands of years, and we will continue to do it again," he said.
Traditional festive foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) were given to attendees in their cars, and they played a trivia game about Hanukkah customs in which they answered by turning on their headlights, blinkers or windshield wipers.
This year's Hanukkah celebration began Thursday night. The eight-day festival commemorates a successful three-year rebellion by ancient Jews against Syrian persecutors. It celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the victorious Maccabees in 170 BC.
Jews rebelled because they had been prohibited from practicing their religion and were being forced to worship Greek gods. The Syrians defiled the sacred Temple, calling for an altar to Zeus to be constructed there and for pigs to be slaughtered on the site in violation of Jewish law.
Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights and is mostly celebrated in people's homes. On the first night families light one candle, adding another candle each night. By the final night eight candles are lit. This commemorates a miracle during the rededication of the Temple. According to Jewish tradition, one day's worth of purified oil kept the Temple's sacred lamp lit for eight days.