Hillsboro's Hanukkah celebration will look different this year
The message of Hanukkah is more important than ever this year, says Rabbi Menachem Rivkin.
Rivkin and his wife, Rabbi Chaya Rivkin, have led the Chabad Jewish Center of Hillsboro — the only synagogue in Washington County — since 2007.
Typically, Jewish people and non-Jewish people alike from across the county would come to Orenco Station on the first night of Hanukkah to participate in lighting the first candle on an 9-foot-tall stainless steel menorah.
This year, the first night of Hanukkah is Thursday, Dec. 10. But due to the pandemic, while the menorah lighting will be livestreamed on Chabad's Facebook page, in-person attendance will be limited to 50 people, in keeping with state guidelines.
The eight-day holiday celebrates the Jewish rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem nearly 2,200 years ago. Following the defeat of the Greeks who had occupied and imposed their religious beliefs in the area, Jews sought to cleanse the Temple by relighting the menorah with oil. Although they only had enough oil for one day, the story goes, the menorah stayed lit for eight days and nights. The Jewish community considers the event a miracle.
Contrary to what many people outside of the Jewish faith think, Hanukkah is not among the most significant holidays in the religion — the Jewish "high holy days" are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
But the holiday, also known as the "Festival of Lights," is a reminder of the need to spread light in dark times, Rivkin said — a message of particular significance as the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts continue to rage.
"We will not let the challenges of (COVID-19) stop the light," Rivkin said. "Everybody deserves the light. It's more important than ever because most people cannot come."
Rivkin is keeping the menorah lighting to 50 people by inviting members of the community he believes would gain something particularly significant through their presence this year. Many of those people may not feel comfortable being there in person, he said.
Chabad is also adapting in other ways to allow more people to celebrate the holiday with other community members safely.
At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, Chabad is hosting a Hanukkah illusionist event with limited capacity for teens by reservation.
The next night, Rivkin will hold a drive-thru Hanukkah celebration at the synagogue, located at 965 S.E. Brookwood Ave.
"Everyone can come, but it must be by reservation," Rivkin said. "We're going to bring the big menorah here for one night, and people can drive by and listen to music, see a juggler, get Hanukkah treats in a safe way."
Up to eight cars will be able to park at the synagogue for 15 minutes at a time. The ceremony will repeat for each group.
"We are trying to be creative," Rivkin said.
He said this year has been difficult for all members of his congregation, because being physically present for services, sharing a hug and feeling close to one another is essential to the community.
Unlike many other faiths, Jewish congregations have not had the option of holding services via video stream, because Jewish law prohibits the use of electronics on the Sabbath.
Instead, Chabad has been occasionally holding Shabbat morning outdoor readings of the Torah — one of Judaism's holy books — for limited numbers of people by reservation. Chabad has also been putting together Shabbat gift packages to take to people's houses on the Sabbath.
Rivkin says while the pandemic has caused a lot of pain for many, it has also created an opportunity for people to grow in ways they would never be able to otherwise.
"This is a shake. No one likes the shake. It's challenging," Rivkin said. "The question is, 'What do we do with it?' Are we lifting ourselves? Are we coming out stronger, gaining spiritually, mentally? Or do we let it take over? In a few years, we will look backward at this time, and God willing, hopefully, we all can say how this place made us more patient or appreciative."
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