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Sugar House Journal

How one Jewish family is adapting its Hanukkah this year

Nov 30, 2020 16h14 ● By Heather Lawrence

Before 2020, Larry and Laura Green of Sandy gathered with friends to light the Hanukkiah candles and celebrate Hanukkah. (Photo courtesy of Larry Green)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Larry Green is on the Board of Directors at Congregation Kol Ami Synagogue in Salt Lake City. As a board, they argue back and forth about the best way to do things, but they agree on one thing—they want their members to stay safe while having meaningful Hanukkah celebrations.  

“There’s an old joke that if you ask two Jews a question, you’ll get three opinions. We’re a people who are commanded to seek out truth, and we do that by asking a lot of questions and arguing.  

“But taking safety precautions is critical as the guardians of our congregation and community. We take that job seriously,” Green said. 

Those precautions will limit Hanukkah celebrations to family members in their homes. This year, the eight-day (night) celebration of Hanukkah is Dec. 10-18.  

Green and his wife Laura have lived here for 20 years. Originally from New York, business and travel brought them out west. “My introduction to Salt Lake City was a huge snowstorm the first time I tried to get up Little Cottonwood Canyon to go skiing,” Green said. 

Now, Little Cottonwood Canyon is right outside their front door. 

Green has researched Utah’s Jewish history. “There has been a Jewish presence here since right after 1847. The name Kol Ami means ‘all my people’ in Hebrew. The synagogue combined two Salt Lake City congregations, a reform and a conservative, into one,” Green said. 

Kol Ami recognized the need for virtual meetings “immediately” when churches shut down in March. “We went to streaming Saturday morning services, and it worked fairly well. We can now attend in our pajamas,” Green said with a laugh. 

The Greens have a daughter and grandchildren who live in California, and family “scattered all over the globe.” But without family in Utah, fellowship at Kol Ami is a big part of their lives. 

“[Our congregation] is a hugging and kissing lot, so come the end of the [worship] service we would meet outside the hall. We break bread and have blessings over the wine. Then we converse,” Green said. 

For the Greens, a typical year’s Hanukkah includes gathering in their home each of the eight nights at sundown. They invite five or six other families to their home. They light the candle, chant a hymn, and say a blessing. “There’s a blessing for everything! Let your imagination run wild, anything you can think of—in Judaism there’s a blessing for it,” Green said. 

They also give gifts. “Some are big gifts, some are just tokens. The important thing is the giving,” Green said. 

Also called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates a miracle in Jewish history. During the temple rededication, the purified oil that was needed to light lamps in the temple had been spoiled by attackers. There was only one cruse of it left. 

The lamps at the temple were lit while new olive oil was prepared. The preparation took eight days, and miraculously, the oil lasted until more was properly prepared. 

“It’s thinking about where eternal light comes from,” Green said. “You light one candle per night and a helper candle. And we don’t light a menorah—I don’t even own a menorah. We light a Hanukkiah (han-OO-kee-uh). I own five or six Hanukkiahs and the more fanciful the better. It’s a joyful celebration. We also eat a lot of fried foods to remember the oil.”

None of those aspects will change with this year’s gathering restrictions. “It’s a family holiday that you celebrate in your home. There are hymns and blessings that are specific to Hanukkah.  That will all stay the same. We’ll practice our traditions. We just won’t invite friends over.”

Green speaks freely about his Jewish faith and thinks it’s good when people want to learn more. He and other board members decided to invest in safety measures for the synagogue. When they return to in-person services, they will happily welcome visitors. 

“I think what has to be said in today’s climate is that we are a people of peace,” Green said. “We value peace and tranquility above everything else. We wish everyone a happy holiday season regardless of what their faith is and who they worship. God willing, we’ll see everyone next year in better conditions.”