While coronavirus remains a constant issue on the mind of all, the organizers of Ohr Torah Stone’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity are creating a “sense of normalcy and joy” in bringing back holiday programming to communities all across Israel.
“So much about the last two years has been about being apart and separated,” explained Yachad’s Director of Operations Betzalel Safra. “We're excited to once again be able to bring people together and celebrate their common heritage over the lights of the Hanukkah candles.”
The annual “Our Building Lights Together” initiative will take place in 24 cities, from Katzrin in the Golan Heights all the way down to Eilat on the southern tip of Israel. It will include the distribution of thousands of packages, and coordinating the hosting of holiday celebrations in the lobbies and common spaces of residential buildings. The Ohr Torah Stone Yachad facilitators work year-round through the Israeli Community Center network to strengthen secular Israelis' connection to their heritage, empowering them to connect to their roots in warm, non-coercive environments, and ensuring that Judaism is viewed as a source of meaning, guidance and pride.
Yael Schwartz, who coordinates Yachad programming in the northern town of Tirat HaCarmel, says that while last year they were only able to reach 70 buildings, this year they are planning for over 200, in response to many new families who have moved into the area.
“Many of these individual buildings are occupied by as many as 80 families, so the impact that this program has is truly enormous and can allow thousands of people all over the country to feel connected, united and strong at this time of year.”
Each package includes a series of customized holiday-related games, activities, texts, and treats that can bring together families and neighbors in the holiday spirit.
“Our world remains in darkness from the disunity amongst us and the ongoing tragedies still occurring from the pandemic,” said Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone.
“We feel a sense of responsibility to respond with light and hope, which is what Hanukkah is all about. This program harnesses that special light of Hanukkah to unite families and communities based on our shared values and traditions - with unity not requiring uniformity. We pray that Hanukkah this year will also represent a modern-day victory over our challenges and help usher in a period of unity and spiritual wholeness.”