Celebrating Hanukkah in Assisted Living
If your Jewish loved one has recently moved into an assisted living community or a nursing home, you can still celebrate Hanukkah together. An electric candle can be brought in to mediate safety concerns, and dreidels and gelt are always fun. Read on for more ideas of how to celebrate Hanukkah in assisted living (plus an explanation of many terms if you yourself are not Jewish).
Hanukkah is probably the best-known Jewish festival, but it is not Jewish Christmas. The Festival of Rededication or Feast of Lights commemorates a miracle that God performed when the Jews refused to bow to pagan gods. From 167 to 160 BCE the Maccabean revolt took place against Antiochus IV, who wanted them to worship Zeus. When the Jews retook the temple, it had been profaned, so it was in need of cleansing and rededication. They found that the olive oil for the menorah had also been contaminated, and there was only enough to burn for one day whereas it would take eight days to consecrate new oil. The miracle was that the light did not go out. God kept it burning for eight days and nights, which is why the festival lasts eight days.
The focal point of Hanukkah is a Hanukkah, the nine-branched candelabra so that one candle can be lighted each evening plus the shamash or servant candle with which to light the others. Actual candles or oil lamps of a kosher menorah are discouraged in most care homes, but an electric Hanukkah can provide the joy of lighting each candle in a safe manner.
This year we start by lighting the first candle on December 6. The first candle should be lit shortly after sunset or after nightfall and remain lit for at least thirty minutes after nightfall. The shamash candle sits separately, often higher or lower than the others. On the first night, light the shamash and the candle at the far right. Add a candle next to the far righthand one on each successive night and light the newer candle first, until all candles are lit on the last night of Hanukkah. Recite the blessing as you light the candles. Your loved one may spontaneously participate with you – these memories are deep.
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech ha-olam a-sher ki-de-sha-nu be-mitz-vo-tav ve-tzi-va-nu le-hadlik ner Hanukkah.
Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech ha-olam she-a-sa ni-sim la-avo-te-nu ba-ya-mim ha-hem bi-z’man ha-zeh.
[Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.]
After lighting the candles, it is traditional to sing Maoz Tzur or Haneirot Halalu. Sing the Dreidel song if you can’t remember the words to other songs. Pass out some Hanukkah gelt, chocolate coins covered in gold foil. Fried potato latkes, applesauce and doughnuts are traditional Hanukkah foods, or almost anything fried.
If your loved one isn’t too tired, bring a dreidel and play a few rounds. The dreidel was used during the times of the Maccabees to hide Torah study, which was forbidden by law. The spinning top has the Hebrew letters nun (נ), gimmel(ג), hey (ה), and shin (ש) on its four sides. These letters form an acronym for “nes gadol hayah sham,” or “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel where the Hanukkah miracle took place the last letter, shin, is changed to pey (פ), standing for“po”—”here.” Once your loved one has won some gelt she will sleep like an angel.