Traditionally, when Hanukkah comes around, Mara Egorin-Williams and her family are quite busy, what with relatives and friends visiting, festive meals, games of dreidel, and, of course, the menorah-lighting.

Then there are the myriad holiday events outside the home during the eight days of the holiday, which this year begins on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 10. Her family—including husband Brian and daughters Natasha, 6, and Norah, 10—usually participates in activities with Harford Chabad in Bel Air, Md. This year, however, with most group activities curtailed due to coronavirus restrictions, events will take place in Egorin-Williams’ home, except for their joining in the local car-menorah parade, which Brian is helping coordinate.

To ensure that they and others in the area have a festive Hanukkah, Fraida and Rabbi Kushi Schusterman, directors of Harford Chabad, sent out several hundred “Hanukkah Toolbox” kits filled with holiday goodies.

“The Hanukkah Toolbox is great,” Egorin-Williams told Chabad.org. “We got candles and dreidels, which my girls have already started spinning. The toolbox has all the reminders of when we start the festivities, the different prayers to say, and the girls each have something to read and go through about the holiday. I can also read over the story and the meaning of Hanukkah.”

Across the globe, Chabad-Lubavitch is reimagining how to reach people to help them celebrate Hanukkah in their own homes. Some 350,000 families around the world are being sent Hanukkah party sets with items appropriate for young families, including games and crafts, by their local emissaries. In other instances, volunteer “Ambassadors of Light”—Jewish teens and young professionals—are reaching out to people in their own circles and gifting them with menorahs and other holiday essentials.

All told, this year’s global campaign will see Chabad-Lubavitch reach 8 million Jews in more than 100 countries. An estimated 10 million unique visitors are expected to use the practical “how to” guides and discover many layers of meaning at the movement’s Hanukkah.org website. Additionally, Chabad will help families bring the light and celebration into their homes by distributing approximately 64 million Hanukkah candles, more than 700,000 menorah kits and 2.5 million holiday guides in 17 languages.

The goal, in each instance, is to ease the isolation people feel this year as the pandemic continues to keep people socially distant and at home. It is also meant to ensure that people have the tools they need to live full Jewish lives at home.

“It’s about reaching the people in their communities. Plus, we wanted to give the kids something special and make them excited for the holiday,” said Rabbi Zalmy Loewenthal, director of Chabad Children’s Network, CKids, which has created special CKids Hanukkah Toolboxes that are being distributed to thousands upon thousands of families in advance of the holiday.

Celebrating in one’s home is the “Jewish way,” said Rabbi Schusterman of Harford County, Md. “Corona just accelerated that for us, and people are willing to try new things. In previous years, the goal of programming was to get people to join our menorah-lighting. This year the focus has changed to how to empower people to celebrate the holidays in their own homes.

“Where we live, not every supermarket has Chanukah candles,” he continued, “so sending out these kits, which include candles and other items, takes away one barrier to observing the mitzvah of the holiday.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Brian and Mara Egorin-Williams, and daughters Natasha, 6, and Norah, 10, will celebrate Hanukkah at home this year, though they will join the local car-menorah parade, which Brian is helping coordinate.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Brian and Mara Egorin-Williams, and daughters Natasha, 6, and Norah, 10, will celebrate Hanukkah at home this year, though they will join the local car-menorah parade, which Brian is helping coordinate.

‘Working Around the Clock to Make It Happen’

According to Rabbi Menachem Matusof, executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of Alberta, Canada, reaching out to as many people as possible during this pandemic is not only the goal, it’s the ultimate expression of the teaching of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—to add light into the darkness.

“Since the beginning of COVID-19, our approach, like many others, is that business is going on, but just not as usual. And not only is it going on, but we are going to expand,” he said. “Our goal is to send a Hanukkah Toolbox to every single Jewish home in Calgary and small towns in Alberta, to senior homes, to people with and without children.

“We are mobilized and ready, working around the clock to make it happen. We are giving away menorahs, candles, a Hanukkah guide, a dreidel, a card game for children, candies, cookies and a latke mix so people can make their own latkes,” he continued. “We are also including a card for a free doughnut or latke that people can pick up from our own Faigel Shapiro Kosher Pantry, which is the only kosher commercial kitchen in Calgary.”

Matusof said that the undertaking is an “expensive project,” but that the emissaries felt that “this is the time to reach people in their own homes. Not everyone is thinking about Hanukkah and preparing for it. By sending them this package, we are going to reach more than 2,500 people in their own homes.”

That, he added, is much more than the hundreds who would come to a menorah-lighting or even watch it when it aired on local TV.

For her part, Egorin-Williams will be an unofficial “Ambassador of Light,” noting that since her family already has a number of menorahs, they will be gifting one to a friend who recently moved cross-country from California to Maryland.

Said Egorin-Williams: “It’s nice to be able to pass it along.”

The Hanukkah toolbox will contain items to help make the holiday mearningful and entertaining.
The Hanukkah toolbox will contain items to help make the holiday mearningful and entertaining.