BILLINGS — Members of the Jewish faith at Congregation Beth Aaron in Billings said the celebration of Hanukkah was extra special this year, because the group was able to meet in person for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
“To see all of the lights together, the community. To be able to shake hands and hug people and eat together will be really nice," said Edward Malters, Congregation Beth Aaron president.
The congregation of about 50 families recently started to meet again for in person services at the synagogue in September. They had been meeting virtually since the spring of 2020.
"This year is going to be fantastic, because we finally get to get back together after COVID. Last year, we did everything by Zoom, other than we had a drive-up for some food and for some toys for children. But this year, we get to come back, see each other and light the candles together," Malters said.
Members of the congregation brought their family menorahs to the synagogue on Saturday and lit them during a ceremony while singing traditional songs.
“There’s nothing that replaces being in the same room, singing together. Being able to all enjoy the light of the same candles. Nothing changes that and it’s been really wonderful to be able to reconnect," said Chayva Lehrman, student rabbi at Congregation Beth Aaron.
Lehrman is a student at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles, California and travels to Billings once a month to deliver sermons to the congregation.
She said the lighting of the menorah represents a miracle told of in the Torah, where oil burning in a temple lamp that should have lasted for one day, instead burned for eight. A Jewish family might light one candle per night and say a prayer on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah at their homes.
“Despite being dispersed in a diaspora around the world, we keep this tradition. And it’s a beautiful tradition because the candles bring a lot of light and joy in a time of year, at least in the northern hemisphere, where it’s very dark," Lehrman said.
Another big part of the Hanukkah tradition is spending time with family. With the holiday stretching across eight days, there's plenty of time for get togethers, said Jana Dorfman, a congregation member.
“In addition to just being with family, usually you also get together with parties with friends. So it’s that kind of holiday too. Especially since it’s over eight days and nights, so you have time to do both," Dorfman said.
And what would any holiday be without food? Latkes are a staple dish during Hanukkah. Made from fried potato and onion, the crispy confections have a variety of different family recipes.
“It’s a great holiday to get together with family and friends and have great food and celebrate and all that. Being with family. Just like Christmas would be in that regard," said Marc, Dorfman.