Latke drive-thrus and LED menorahs: Calgarians find creative ways to celebrate 2nd pandemic Hanukkah

It’s the second Hanukkah celebrated in a pandemic, and Calgary’s Jewish community is finding new ways to celebrate. 

Rabbi Menachem Matusof, executive director of Chabad Lubavtich of Alberta, says Jewish teachings say that light comes from darkness.

“The setback of COVID obviously gave us a push, to increase more light and to reach out more,” Matusof said. 

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, starts Sunday evening. To celebrate, Matusof and more than 100 other members of Calgary’s Jewish community will be topping their cars with light up menorahs and having a car parade starting at Heritage Park. 

“It’s very COVID-safe and 120 cars are having an LED menorah on top of their cars. We’re all going to light the menorahs simultaneously… it’s something that we never had,” he said.

Volunteers help pack 2,500 Hanukkah kits for people across Alberta and Yukon. (Supplied by Yisroel Levi Matusof)

Matusof and 70 volunteers also organized more than 2,500 Hanukkah kits which were distributed across Alberta and the Yukon. 

He said the now-tradition started last year as a way to help others get through the lockdown, but now there’s no going back. 

“One of the messages of Hanukkah is that every night and every day we add another candle and more light, so the light of yesterday doesn’t get extinguished, but on the contrary, gets expanded and increased, so we cannot go back,” he said. 

600 latkes 

Jonah Potasznik, engagement director for Beth Tzedec Congregation, hosted a drive-thru Sunday, serving up about 600 potato latkes — while dressed as a dreidel — to people around the southwest synagogue’s area. 

“Our synagogue, like a lot of synagogues, would put on a big tent ‘everybody come on’ Hanukkah party inside in the building, which is not so tenable during COVID. So we sort of mixed it up,” Potasznik said. 

He said there is a level of sadness not being able to do so again this year, but it’s fun to create new traditions too. 

“As Jews we found creative ways to come together and celebrate during moments of celebration or be supportive in moments when support is needed. So that doesn’t end today.”

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