COVID Column: Chanukah lights can brighten this dark winter


This Chanukah may feel far removed from “a great miracle,” as we continue to struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic. 
As of Dec. 3, Oregon has hit 79,293 cases and nearly 1,000 deaths from the coronavirus. State health officials expect surges in cases to continue at least through the end of December. With the high risk in our region, and across the country, we all need to do our part to slow the spread, both in our daily lives and on special occasions like holidays. We may need to get creative about how we celebrate Chanukah in a fun and safe way. 
Large family gatherings or Chanukah parties are simply not safe this year. State guidelines allow a maximum of six people from no more than two households for indoor and outdoor gatherings in most counties. It’s important to note that even small gatherings pose a risk for spreading COVID-19, especially when indoors and without masks. It can be tempting to give in to pandemic fatigue and forgo the distancing protocols, but given the recent surge in cases, now is not the time to give up. 
Despite the limitations on in-person gatherings, we can still embrace Chanukah traditions to celebrate safely. For those living alone, or those who want to connect with others, virtual get-togethers are a great option. Over video chat, you can light candles together, enjoy a festive meal or even play dreidel virtually. There are also many online Chanukah programs to tune into locally and around the world.  
One way to share some light this Chanukah, besides placing candles in a window, is to drop off latkes, applesauce or sufganiyot on a friend’s or family member’s porch. Just be sure to wash your hands frequently while preparing drop-off items, wear a mask when you go and stay at least 6 feet apart. You can also make and send Chanukah cards to let your loved ones know you’re thinking of them – you can even get kids involved. If you exchange gifts on Chanukah, think about giving cozy presents, like a soft blanket or games, that will make staying at home and isolating feel more palatable. 
Giving gelt is another cherished Chanukah tradition that feels especially important now. While we all enjoy our chocolate gelt, let’s consider where we can meaningfully distribute money and resources this holiday. Organizations can use your support to help those who have been impacted most by the coronavirus, isolation or economic conditions. Let’s not just focus on our own celebrations, but also on how we can give back. Explore eight worthy nonprofits for 8 Days of Giving at
This year, I’m reflecting on the story of the Chanukah miracle, where oil meant to last just one night lit the menorah for eight nights instead. The ability to persist and to sustain light and hope is critical as we look ahead to a lonesome holiday and a difficult winter. 
Although a vaccine is on the horizon, we can still expect months more of mask-wearing and socially distancing. Use this time to think about what you need to do to sustain your wellbeing and stay active in keeping yourself and your loved ones safe. That might involve reaching out to friends over the phone or video, focusing on a new project or goal, committing to helping communities in need, reflecting on your connection to Judaism and the Jewish community, or reaching out for help. 
The Congregation Neveh Shalom COVID-19 Outreach and Services team is here to serve the entire Jewish community in the tri-county area, so please contact us for assistance and connection at or 971-990-5652. 
Happy Chanukah!

Estee Emlen is an Outreach and Education Coordinator for Congregation Neveh Shalom COVID-19 Outreach and Services. CNSCOS is a team appointed by Congregation Neveh Shalom with funding from the Oregon Health Authority tasked with helping limit the spread of COVID-19 by providing services and timely information to the Jewish communities of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties.



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