- IMAGE COURTESY FREEPIK
Fortunately, there is a literal “Festival Of Lights” to alleviate the seasonal dreariness— the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah always begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, but because the Jewish calendar is lunar, the holiday moves around. This year it begins on the night of Dec. 18 and continues for eight nights, through Dec. 25.
In and around Rochester, there are scores of events celebrating the holiday, but not all of them are open to the public. We’ve compiled a list of the biggest ones open to all. Everyone is welcome, even if you’re not Jewish.
Temple Beth El139 South Winton Road, Rochester
Temple Beth El has eight nights of festivities.
Sarah Lloyd, Beth El’s marketing and development director, says “everyone is invited for every night.” Each night includes the lighting of the giant menorah with different temple groups leading the ceremony.
Dec. 18: The congregation kicks off the holiday at 6:15 p.m. with “Taste Of Hanukkah.” If the weather is good, the menorah lighting will be outdoors, followed by heaping platters of latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). They are, as Lloyd says, the “typical fried foods everyone is waiting all year for.” The temple will also give out Hanukkah candles.
Dec. 19: The “20s/30s Low-Key Latkes” celebration focused on young people and families begins at 6:15 p.m. The event includes a latke bar with different-flavored latkes and toppings. As delicious as potato latkes with applesauce and sour cream are, the bar has been known to offer sweet potato or beet latkes with various cheese toppings — yum!
Dec. 20: You’re never too old to celebrate! “Life, Legacy & Latkes” caters to older people (40s and up), and highlights members who have left legacy gifts to Beth El. The festivities start at 6:15 p.m.
Dec. 21: Channel your inner Mary J. Blige, Alanis Morissette, and Eddie Vedder at the temple’s biggest party of the year. The annual Hanukkah celebration starts at 5:30 p.m. and the theme is “Party Like It’s 1999.” People are encouraged to wear ’90s clothes, and there will be retro decorations and a DJ playing ’90s music — as C+C Music Factory sang, “Everybody dance now!” The event also includes kids’ crafts and activities, a photo booth, a full bar and a sit-down dinner. The cost is $20 for adults and $10 for children. Registration is required.
Dec. 22: Camp may be over for the season, but scouting isn’t. “Scouts & Tots Hanukkah” starts at 6:15 p.m. and includes a presentation by Gareth Evans, the district executive of the Boy Scouts Of America Seneca Waterways Council.
Dec. 23: At 4 p.m. the temple will usher in the “Spirit of Hanukkah” with, what else, an alcohol bar. And it’s not a proper Jewish celebration without food, so of course there will be nosh.
Dec. 24: Get cozy at 5:30 p.m. with “Havdallah & Hanukkah.” Havdallah is a low-key ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat. After that, the temple will serve hot chocolate and cookies.
Dec. 25: Because today is also Christmas, the temple has the traditional Jewish celebration of “Chinese Food & A Movie” from noon to 3 p.m. The cost is $18 for adults and $10 for children. Registration is required.
A lot of Beth El staff and members have dogs, and “Dogs ‘N Donuts” returns this year at 6:15 p.m. Family dogs are invited to come celebrate and will receive treats. Their humans can enjoy sufganiyot.
Every program takes place at Temple Beth El and offers latkes and/or sufganiyot. Apart from the events that require registration, admission is free.
Temple B'rith Kodesh2131 Elmwood Ave., Brighton
Temple B’rith Kodesh welcomes Hanukkah with a first-night party and a few other events over the eight days of the holiday.
Dec. 18: The festivities begin at 4 p.m. After the menorah lighting, there will be games – maybe you’ll win big (chocolate) at the traditional spinning-top game of dreidel. And there will be group singing — there are way more songs than “The Dreidel Song.” Of course, there will be food, including latkes. No registration is required.
Dec. 20: Starting at 5:30 p.m. there will be a community interfaith reception at the temple, welcoming members of different churches and honoring first responders.
B’rith Kodesh Senior Rabbi Peter Stein says this event is a good way to learn about the holiday.
“It’s really a chance for people to come in and see Hanukkah for themselves,” he says.
In addition to the menorah lighting, there will be refreshments, as well as dreidels set out for people to play in their own groups. What better way to practice your spin?
Dec. 21: The temple hosts a menorah lighting at Schoen Place in Pittsford at 5:30 p.m. Say the blessing, sing the traditional “Maoz Tzur (Rock Of Ages),” then shop or eat.
Dec. 23: Beginning at 5:30 p.m., there will be an outdoor menorah lighting featuring the large menorah that hangs on the building, followed by a Shabbat service with Hanukkah songs and an oneg (post-service reception) with refreshments, obviously including latkes.
All events are free.
Temple Sinai363 Penfield Road, Brighton
Temple Sinai will hold its “Artful Hanukkah Happening” from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 10 and 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 11. This is a great opportunity for holiday shopping. People can purchase creations from artists, authors and craftspeople. There will also be basket raffles, refreshments, and on Dec. 10, a klezmer band.
Dec. 18: The temple celebrates with a first-night dinner from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Attendees are invited to bring their own menorahs for a group lighting. The dinner is $18 for adults and $12 for children over 4 (under 4 are free). Registration is required.
The temple is also hosting nightly menorah lightings on Zoom.
Roc Holiday VillageDr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park
Manhattan Square, Rochester
Celebrate the lights by lacing up a pair of skates and hitting the ice. ROC Holiday Village at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Rochester has a “Hanukkah Celebration Day” from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 11. In addition to free ice skating, there will be Hanukkah-themed crafts, music, stories and refreshments.
JCC of Greater Rochester1200 Edgewood Ave., Brighton
The Jewish Community Center and the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester hold a “Light, Peace & Latkes” celebration from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22 at the JCC, featuring dinner, crafts, games, and lots of music. Mike Miller and Leah Sherman will lead people in singing and a DJ will spin dance tunes. Registration is required and costs $5 per person. For more information, visit jewishrochester.org.
Congregation Etz Chaim2 Mountain Rise, Fairport
This small congregation in Fairport hosts a menorah lighting and potluck dinner at 6 p.m. Dec. 23. and they want a good turnout. For more information, give the congregation a call.
Chabad Lubavitch of Rochester1037 South Winton Road, Brighton
Chabad Lubavitch of Rochester holds menorah lightings around Monroe County throughout the holidays. For a complete schedule of events, visit chabadrochester.com.