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Hanukkah celebrations begin Thursday night, but they're going to look a lot different this year

The Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk will celebrate the eight-day Jewish holiday virtually. It's a chance to shine a light during what's been a dark year.

NORFOLK, Va. — Thursday night, those who celebrate Hanukkah will begin lighting their candles.

The Jewish holiday, known as the festival of lights is observed for eight days, from Dec. 10th through the 17th.

With the pandemic raging across the country, the celebrations will look a lot different this year.

At the Ohef Sholom Temple in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood, the congregation won’t gather physically to celebrate.

Roz Mandelberg, the Rabbi at Ohef Sholom said the decision is about protecting her community.

“There’s a principle in Judaism called Pikuach Nefesh, which means saving a life. That value supersedes many of the other most sacred ones that we hold dear,” said Mandelberg.

“Because of that, we have chosen as a congregation not to gather together physically.”

Instead, the temple will hold virtual candle lighting ceremonies for eight nights, beginning Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m. Each ceremony will be live-streamed on the congregation’s Facebook page.

The virtual event, Chanukah Live, is something the congregation began a few years ago, long before the pandemic.

This year, they’re ready. Even then, Mandelberg said not being able to worship together in person is difficult.

“We won’t be able to have our very beloved annual Hanukkah dinner, where people bring their food and we have many people lighting at the same time,” said Mandelberg.

While COVID-19 has transformed the way her congregation worships, Mandelberg said a few good things have happened as a result of virtual worship events.

“In many ways, COVID has required us to redefine community,” said Mandelberg.

“The good news is, as disruptive as it’s been, it's enabled us to expand our notion of community and reach many more people than we have in the past by doing things virtually.”

Despite celebrations looking drastically different, the meaning of Hanukkah and why they celebrate hasn’t changed.

“Our faith is still here,” said Mandelberg.

“It’s very strong. I’m not gonna say COVID hasn’t presented challenges, that there aren’t people who have felt isolated, or lonely, or depressed during this time, but our faith is strong that things will turn around.”

For her congregation, the start of Hanukkah is a chance to shine a light in the midst of what’s been the dark year of the pandemic.