Rabbi hopes pandemic community spirit endures as Hanukkah celebrations return

This year will see the return of the Jewish community to the Islington menorah lighting in London.

Hanukkah celebrations
Hanukkah celebrations

A rabbi said he hopes the community spirit that emerged during the pandemic endures as he prepares to welcome members of the Jewish community to a menorah lighting on the first night of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah – known as the festival of lights – is an eight-day celebration involving food, prayer and the lighting of a menorah.

This year it runs from November 28 until December 6.

In 2020 the Islington menorah lighting was reduced from its usual capacity of around 700 people to just dozens, with severe restrictions on activities.

Hanukkah celebrations
Rabbi Mendy Korer, co-chief executive at Chabad Islington, talking on stage at a previous Islington menorah lighting (Chabad Islington/PA)

This year however, co-chief executive at Chabad Islington in north London, Rabbi Mendy Korer, said they are able to put on a “full programme”.

He told the PA news agency: “It does feel like people from the public and community are really eager to get out.

“It feels, for Hanukkah celebrations, that there’s an eagerness for people to be able to celebrate the way they love to, as a community, seeing each other, singing together and making it into a really joyful celebration.

“I’m very eager for Sunday and praying for dry weather. I don’t think I can do much about the cold but as long as it’s dry I’ll be happy, and I’m looking forward to seeing everybody.”

Having worked with the council to ensure they take the necessary precautions, this year’s Islington menorah lighting will see entertainment, music, storytelling and food.

Rabbi Korer said “it’s going to be a great day” but added that he hopes the community spirit which emerged during the pandemic endures.

Hanukkah celebrations
A Hanukkah care package, designed to help people celebrate at home with challenges and activities in 2020 (Chabad Islington/PA)

“Many people were suffering,” he said. “I think the silver lining was bringing out a certain community spirit.

“I hope this is something we continue and – (with) this Hanukkah event coming up before us this Sunday – (we) continue to create that energy of community care and affection.”

This year marks Chabad Islington’s 10th annual Islington Green menorah lighting and to celebrate the charity has released an adaptation of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline called Sweet Chanukah.

Rabbi Korer said: “We want to recognise that there was a beautiful spirit going across the UK throughout the summer, singing Sweet Caroline, so we’ve done a remake of it and we’re looking forward to singing the updated lyrics with everybody.”

And while many will welcome the return of some form of normality, Rabbi Korer recalled one instance in which last year’s minimal celebrations produced a magical memory for a passer-by.

“I recall someone in the community sharing that they were walking in the park on this dark wintry evening, and then suddenly (thinking) ‘is that some music that I’m hearing? I must be dreaming’.

“Continuing to follow along (they saw) it was a small crowd doing a little singalong of Hanukkah songs, a joyful memory during that long dark period.

“I guess that encapsulates what it was like.”

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