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Rabbi hopes community spirit borne from pandemic continues as Hannukah celebrations return

As the Jewish community prepares to start celebrations for Hanukkah on Sunday, a rabbi has said he hopes the community spirit that emerged during the coronavirus pandemic continues to endure.

Rabbi Mendy Korer, co-chief executive at Chabad Islington in north London, is preparing to welcome members of the community for the annual lighting of the menorah, which is usually attended by around 700 people.

Last year, due to coronavirus restrictions, capacity for the menorah lighting was drastically reduced to just dozens.

Hannukah, known as the festival of lights, is one of the most highly-anticipated and joyous Jewish festivals of the year. It is an eight-day celebration that takes place every year on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar.

This year it runs from 28 November until 6 December.

Rabbi Korer, said they are able to put on a “full programme” this year, telling the PA news agency: It does feel like people from the public and community are really eager to get out.

“It feels, for Hanukkah celebrations, that there’s an eagerness for people to be able to celebrate the way they love to, as a community, seeing each other, singing together and making it into a really joyful celebration.

“I’m very eager for Sunday and praying for dry weather. I don’t think I can do much about the cold but as long as it’s dry I’ll be happy, and I’m looking forward to seeing everybody.”

Having worked with the council to ensure they take the necessary precautions, this year’s Islington menorah lighting will see entertainment, music, storytelling and food.

Rabbi Korer said “it’s going to be a great day” but added that he hopes the community spirit which emerged during the pandemic endures.

“Many people were suffering,” he said. “I think the silver lining was bringing out a certain community spirit.

“I hope this is something we continue and - (with) this Hanukkah event coming up before us this Sunday - (we) continue to create that energy of community care and affection.”

This year marks Chabad Islington’s 10th annual Islington Green menorah lighting and to celebrate the charity has released an adaptation of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline called Sweet Chanukah.

Rabbi Korer said: “We want to recognise that there was a beautiful spirit going across the UK throughout the summer, singing Sweet Caroline, so we’ve done a remake of it and we’re looking forward to singing the updated lyrics with everybody.”

And while many will welcome the return of some form of normality, Rabbi Korer recalled one instance in which last year’s minimal celebrations produced a magical memory for a passer-by.

“I recall someone in the community sharing that they were walking in the park on this dark wintry evening, and then suddenly (thinking) ‘is that some music that I’m hearing? I must be dreaming’.

“Continuing to follow along (they saw) it was a small crowd doing a little singalong of Hanukkah songs, a joyful memory during that long dark period.

“I guess that encapsulates what it was like.”