Chanukah begins the evening of Nov. 28, and the holiday cannot come soon enough for Rabbi Debbie Lefton of Wexner Heritage Village in Columbus and Rabbi Akiva Feinstein of Menorah Park in the Cleveland suburb of Beachwood. Both are ready to help their facility’s residents celebrate in person after dealing with the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

WHV’s in-person Chanukah celebrations were put on hold last year, and this year is going big all over campus. It has engaged BalLOONiacs, a decorative balloon business in Columbus, to create a large balloon menorah, Lefton said. There will also be festive disco balls, an entertainer and decorations throughout campus.

Lefton told the Columbus Jewish News, “We are so excited to be able to really celebrate together,” adding there will be prizes for whoever has the best disco costume.

“All the staff haven’t been together in almost two years,” she said. “To be able to socialize and celebrate Chanukah with the residents is just so incredibly amazing. And nobody’s taking it for granted.”

WHV’s holiday season started with a food drive Nov. 3 that runs until Dec. 22.

There will be a Chanukah cocktail party Nov. 28 at its Creekside residence with Chanukah songs, blessings and a menorah lighting. Lefton said there will also be latkes, doughnuts and other traditional holiday foods. Sonia Schottenstein, a WHV resident and pianist, will play the piano for the event.

“She’s a very valued member of the Jewish community and we’re thrilled,” Lefton said. “We’re very lucky that she’s able to play for the kickoff Chanukah evening at Creekside.”

On Dec. 3, staff and residents will be invited to a campus Chanukah disco party where everyone attending will get a gift package, including eight gifts that are symbolic of Chanukah and meant to teach about the holiday, such as Chanukah socks, a Chanukah mug, dreidels and gelt.

Lefton said while WHV’s staff is predominantly non-Jewish, they enjoy celebrating the holiday and Jewish history, values and customs.

Feinstein said he is anxious to have a big celebration of the holiday as he could not bring in outside performers last year, instead having to record concerts and services and broadcast them to residents through an internal TV channel.

Feinstein said this year, each building in the community will do its own series of events, such as Rock For All Ages at the Stone Gardens residence Nov. 29, performed by Noah Budin and the Promised Band. Those at R.H. Myers Apartments are creating menorahs and will have a special lighting there as well.

Menorah Park also reached out to local schools and asked them to design menorahs that can accommodate small tealight candles. Menorah Park received about 25 submissions and has placed them all around the community.

“The whole idea was that schools can’t visit like they used to, but we want them to have a presence and be able to connect to our residents and bring them Chanukah joy,” Feinstein said.

Menorah Park is still being careful and taking appropriate precautions in regard to COVID-19, but Feinstein said it will still be exciting to have everyone celebrate in person again.

“On the one hand, we’re still being very careful,” Feinstein said. “We’re being very considerate of the situation. But it’s just an intelligent, creative step. … Chanukah is such a family-oriented holiday. It takes place in the home, it brings people together. So, I think that it’s very apropos that we’re kind of coming together again as a community in the Chanukah activities.”

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