The Maccabees effort to end their plight sent them into war against Antiochus and his followers. They fought for their freedom and they fought for their religion. The Maccabees defeated their enemies in a miracle victory and restored Judaism back to the land.
Post-World War II Europe has seen similar challenges in the rebuilding of Jewish communities. Each community is unique and has dedicated individuals just like the Maccabees. However, each community is connected through their ubiquity in the fight for the growth of their community and their Judaism.
Here in Riga, the community has developed a sense of culture and peoplehood that the local community has rallied around. During Chanukah, the Community puts on a Chanukah Caravan, which draws the Jewish people from all over by putting on an array of programming for every one of all ages. Other Jewish communities - Daugaupils, Jekabpils, Liepaja, Ventspils - came to Riga and participated in the Chanukah celebrations.
On the 5th night of Chanukah after Shabbat, 170 people gathered into the large ornate theatre and sat down in anticipation for a night of singing and dancing. The Executive Director of the Community, Gita Umanovska, emceed the event and welcomed everyone to the concert. Havdallah was said communally and the large Chanukiah was lit. The lights dimmed and the concert began. The Israel singing group, Kinnor, came out on stage and sang a variety of songs from traditional Jewish songs, Yiddish songs, and even a selection of songs from the Fiddler on the Roof. Cantor Shulamit Resnick accompanied Kinnor during the performance. Cantor Resnick, a native to Riga, is a celebrated concert vocalist, amongst other occupations. Her beautiful singing moved the audience and evoked emotions and memories of being in synagogue during a major Jewish holiday. The local Israeli dance troupe, Eilat, added their own unique flair and performed traditional Israeli dances with a modern twist. One of their dances told a story about life in pre-World War I Eastern Europe. The energy and showmanship between the groups made for an exciting night without a stale moment on stage.
The next day there was an encore performance that drew a large crowd and was just as lively. The Chanukah Caravan picked up and traveled to a neighboring town, Jurmala, for a third performance by Kinnor and Eilat, attended by 90 people. That night, a program for young adults at a small club brought together a variety of people from around the community. Everyone had a great time playing games, chatting or enjoying the lounge musicians. Traditional Chanukah food was plentiful and holiday spirits were high.
The local teens celebrated Chanukah and a successful first half of the year with a discothèque. There was plenty of fun had by all with music, food and dancing. They even played endurance dreidel, similar to the Major League Dreidel style of play. The youth programming volunteers and coordinators enjoyed a small party at my apartment. They first lit Chanukah candles before playing a Chanukah game. The game consisted of trivia, charades and other interactive activities. The trivia varied in difficulty with questions about the dreidel, Judith, the Maccabees and Hilchot Chanukah (Laws of Chanukah). After, they socialized and enjoyed the downtime with each other.
Top: Myself and other community members lighting the large Chanukiah
Second Row: Posters I made for the Chanukah Caravan concerts
Third Row: Kinnor (left) and Eilat (Right)
Bottom Row, Left: Myself and Gita before I lead Havdallah
Bottom Row, Middle: Our version of the MLD Spinagogue
Bottom Row, Right: My environmentally sustainable Chanukiah. I made it using water, olive oil, cups, twine, and tin foil. This is where I got the idea.