Igniting our Hearts this Chanukah
by Sharoni Sibony
The idea for IGNITE came from Rabbi Aaron Levy, the founding rabbi and executive director of Makom: Creative Downtown Judaism, who, many years ago, said to me that Toronto needed a cross-communal, multi-faceted, intergenerational festival to mark Chanukah in the model of the Downtown Tikkun Leil Shavuot, through which we had brought together nearly 700 people a year for many years. The opportunity at Chanukah, he said, was that we could celebrate with music and experiential arts practices. Last year, Holy Blossom was the proud host of the inaugural IGNITE: Tikkun Leil Chanukah, a festival of Jewish culture and learning. This year, we’re once again collaborating with our neighbours and a dozen community partners, but Beth Tzedec will be the physical host.
It feels much harder to approach the bright joy of Chanukah in the midst of acute grief. It’s certainly been a harder planning process, with everyone’s attention rightly pulled toward the war. But we’ve crafted the program with this very much in mind.
We’ll gather together to deepen into the complexities of the Chanukah season. We’re taking our inspiration from the ways in which light and darkness collaborate and commingle like our joys and levities in conversation with our sadnesses, terrors, fears, and confusions. As the days get shorter and quiet darkness settles us in – or settles in us – for a season of hibernation, we’ll come together before this hibernation to stand and sing and learn alongside each other in a holiday of rededication – perhaps painful, perhaps slow, perhaps before we’re ready or sure of how to proceed. As Leonard Cohen writes in his poem, “Rededication,”
and we are almost too tired to begin again
with miracles and leaves
and lingering on steps in sudden sun
Like the Maccabees before us, we will struggle to rebuild from the rubble of war, and it may not yet be time to embark on that project when we gather together for the first night of our festival. But we know that the devotional practices of learning across communities and deepening into our creative selves are both acts of renewal that can serve as a soft landing place in a season of tumult. And we know that Chanukah lets us reflect on the growth of increasing light, a gradual process of transition and transformation, not a hard, crisp overnight change. We hope that out of the rubble in our hearts, we can rededicate ourselves to hope.
To that end, we have a stellar line-up of learning and entertainment opportunities to spark your Chanukah experience. Rabbi Yael Splansky will be co-teaching a session with Aviva Chernick on “songs and psalms of courage,” so you can study and sing with them together. Rabbi Sam Kaye will be introducing us to a Hassidic text on what makes the miracle of Chanukah unique and sacred. I’ll be co-teaching with my chevruta, Maxine Lee Ewaschuk, on the curious case of the people of Talmudic Tadmor and the halachot of Chanukah candle-lighting, then we’ll do some art about theethical dimensions of Chanukah halachot. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are history studies, Torah studies, Yiddish stories, a kumzitz, hands-on art-making, Zumbanukah (bring your comfy shoes), singing niggunim in the dark, social justice reflections spun from the dreidel, the queer miraculous… all designed to tease out the deep and varied themes of the Chanukah holiday with sensitivity and care, and ultimately with celebration.
We open at 6 PM with a cross-communal, intergenerational candle-lighting gathering, and then you can choose from a number of options – including a program for kids ages 5-12. After 7:30 PM, kids go home and teens and adults are welcome to come and go any time between the opening and closing circles (the closing circle is set to end at 1 AM for the night owls). To be clear, there are no special sessions for teens this year, but teens are welcome at any and all of the study sessions. And, between the study sessions, there will be micro-concerts produced by the Ashkenaz Festival – short musical performances featuring Aviva Rajsky, Roman Kekhman and Maayan Band. Come early or late; stay a little or stay the whole time. Kosher food will also be available for purchase at the dinner break.
So, please join us and bring your friends from the Holy Blossom community and beyond. It’s going to be a very special holiday, after all.