Earlier this year we looked at the celebration of Purim at senior communities. As Chanukah approaches it’s a fitting time to revisit Jewish senior communities and see how they team with volunteers to foster the preservation of their residents’ faith and traditions.
In Jewish households and places of gathering across the world, the eight day holiday of Chanukah will begin at sunset on December 16th. Chanukah (Hanukkah) celebrates an event described in the Jewish holy book of the Talmud whereby a small quantity of oil, only enough for about one day, miraculously lasted eight days, allowing for the proper re-dedication of the Second Temple. To this day, Jewish people honor and remember this miracle by lighting candles on the iconic menorah each of the eight nights of Chanukah. Senior communities are no exception.
Many communities with Jewish populations host volunteers who visit and kick off Chanukah with the residents. We spoke with Rabbi Meir Moscowitz who leads Lubavitch Chabad of Northbrook in the Chicago area. Each year at Chanukah, Rabbi Moscowitz is among scores of volunteers in the Chicago area who visit senior communities where Jewish people live to share in the Chanukah celebrations with them.
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On these visits Chanukah’s intergenerational character is evident. Rabbi Moscowitz noted that one of the most special parts of these visits is “the smile the seniors have when they see the children,” and similarly the sense of pride the children take in visiting.
Rabbi Moscowitz elaborated on the importance of making sure that generations come together and that elderly adults in senior communities are included, tying it in to the symbolic importance of light to Chanukah:
“One of the qualities of light is that people come together to share in the light. Normally we may be only in touch with a certain segment of the community, but if we want to make the whole world a brighter place we need to reach out to everyone.”
Another Rabbi from the Chicago area who will be visiting a senior community during Chanukah is Yitzchok Bergstein. He echoed many of Rabbi Moscowitz’s sentiments, who talked about what these visits entail. He said that he and his family will bring the menorah light and Chanukah treats like sufganiyah (a jelly donut). They sing traditional songs, and also speak together about what Chanukah means to them.
He added that kids love going to see seniors at Chanukah even more than they enjoy playing the dreidel game. He also said that the seniors appreciate the visits greatly, noting that celebrating Chanukah and other Jewish holidays helps to bring back senior’s memories of their youth, reinvigorates them and also helps them maintain their connection to their faith in late life.
Rabbi’s don’t only visit communities with sizeable Jewish populations. We heard one anecdote about a Rabbi Shimmy Susskind who lives and works in the Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills. He regularly pays visits to a community where there is a single Jewish resident.
If you would like to see how a senior community’s residents are celebrating Chanukah, contact a Jewish senior living community and ask about their planned events. Here is a list of some communities in the Chicago area that will be hosting Chanukah celebrations in cooperation with volunteers from the greater community:
Are you or a loved one celebrating Chanukah in a senior living community? What tradition is most important to you during this time? Share your comments on Chanukah below.