As we light the last candle on the Hanukkiah tonight, we are excited to highlight our final Hanukkah Mensch of the Day. The past eight nights have brought us some much needed light and happiness. It has been so fun to feature members of the GatherDC community and learn how they are sparking joy for themselves and others this holiday season.
Check out our Mensch of the Day features below. And if you’re wondering what happened to the eight mensch, check out our Mensch of the Week here!
This winter, I’m all about baths, journaling, cooking comfort food, and practicing gratitude. Baths have become my favorite pandemic hobby, I highly recommend getting a bamboo bath caddy and investing in bath bombs, salts, or oils. True story: Rabbi Ilana e-mailed me “It’s everything!!!!!!” after she bought herself a bath caddy!
Journaling regularly is a difficult thing to get into, but it provides me a space for reflection that is almost unparalleled. Pro tip: get a very pretty journal so that it inspires you to look at it every day. Cooking is a huge passion of mine and I’ve been making homemade pasta a lot recently. I highly recommend making your own pesto (my favorite recipe, which just happens to be vegan, is here).
Lastly, I try to practice gratitude daily because it helps me stay grounded.
Hanukkah for my family is about spending time with the people you love. So, my favorite way to celebrate the holiday is by cooking delicious food and going to other people’s houses to eat amazing food communally. This year, it’s obviously different. But you can still cook together and eat together on Zoom!
I think I bring one thing to the communities that I’m part of: authenticity. For better, or for worse, I don’t try to be anyone other than myself. I think my vulnerability and authenticity allows others to bring their own vulnerability and authenticity. I hope I spread light and joy to others by allowing them to come as they are, which might seem inconsequential but I think is actually rare and important. I’m a huge fan of Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, which you can get a taste of in this Ted Talk.
Latkes, of course. Everything fried = bae.
DC’s Mutual Aid Network is bringing me so much joy! Being able to witness and play a small part in the network, which is a combination of local organizations, individuals, organizers, and newly formed hub/ward teams has been so rejuvenating for me as the colder weather sets in. The way in which this community led effort has folks caring for one another is building a future that I want to be a part of.
Outside of the big giant Hanukkah parties that my synagogue had growing up (and where I got to be the yearly cotton candy spinner once I had my Bat Mitzvah!), which will look different this year, of course, I’d say that I love lighting the Hanukkiah outside. Or putting our Hanukkiah in the window each night. The days get dark so early in the winter, so I really love adding a little light for everyone.
My wife and I try to be really thoughtful about how and where we buy gifts and use the gift giving/receiving as a way to support our community. This year, for example, all of my gifts for her are coming from Black owned (and mostly local!) businesses.
Latkes – but they have to be hand grated!
Wayne lighting the menorah this week
Wayne: I’ve been spending more time cooking and baking. I make challah almost every week nowadays. Not only is it a delicious addition to my Shabbat meal (especially with roasted red pepper hummus!), but it helps me to feel connected to tradition and our community when I think about how many others are spending time doing the same. I’ve also been experimenting with new recipes and sharing these with family and friends.
Wayne and his sister cooking up a 2019 Thanksgiving meal
Wayne: I really enjoy the ritual of lighting the hanukkiah each night. Making the time to create some space for reflection has always been grounding for me. Watching the lights increase over the week brings me joy, and my favorite is that last night when all the lights are glowing. This year my husband and I planned something special for each night of Hanukkah to really lean into creating a meaningful tradition together.
Wayne: I’m focusing on the many ways that we are able to bring light to others this year when we physically cannot gather. This year has felt less connected and I am trying to be more active in sending cards, messages, and calling people, especially around special events. I’ve shared my baking with staff in my building to show my appreciation. I think food can go a long ways towards bringing simple joys and pleasure.
Food insecurity is an area of social justice that I’ve become more concerned with, so I’ve worked to raise awareness and dedicate more time and tzedakah to it. Leaning into programs like my synagogue’s Sunday Stuffing Thanksgiving program have become more meaningful than ever. Finally, I’m really trying to embrace the importance of showing up to be part of building and maintaining our community during a time of difficulty.
Wayne and his husband during Hanukkah last year
Wayne: Latkes and sour cream!
Hanukkah 2018: Amanda with friends – definitely more joy than oy!
I am grateful to have stumbled upon the most wonderful and welcoming community of theatre-lovers early on in the pandemic through an organization called Broadway Weekends. Broadway Weekends offers theatre masterclasses all taught by Broadway and West End performers, with classes ranging from learning choreography to specific musicals, singing technique, acting through song, improv, and so much more!
Through taking their classes, I have found a global community of people who love theatre just as much as I do, and have been able to form close bonds with people on the other side of the world, who I’ve never even met in person. It’s the only thing that will get me out of bed at 8:45am on a Sunday! Every month their schedule changes, so I’m really looking forward to their December schedule, which includes a playwriting class and a songwriting class!
Amanda in a monologue coaching class taught by Jennifer Apple, member of the national touring company of The Band’s Visit.
With community! Whether that be family, friends, or a group at large. One of the gifts of working from home is that I am able to be with my parents for Chanukah this year, and we’ve been zooming with my brothers to light candles together every night.
I usually like doing something special to commemorate the holiday – last year, my roommate and I hosted a Chanukah Shabbat with OneTable, and made zucchini latkes in addition to potato ones! The year before that, when I was a senior in college, I helped organize a cabaret through Tufts Hillel, where students performed different songs related to Judaism, Chanukah, and our theme for the cabaret: Oy To The World (which feels way more timely now in 2020). My family also likes to find every single menorah we own and light them all. The menorah, the merrier!
Usually it is by helping to plan gatherings and events that are focused around food, art, or both, such as the Chanukah Shabbat and the Hillel Cabaret. This year, I’m trying to check-in with friends more and make phone calls to people who I haven’t connected with in a while. Especially friends who I think about at this time of year because we’ve celebrated the holidays together.
Hanukkah 2020: Amanda celebrating with Hanukkah socks, the cast of Jagged Little Pill on NBC’s One Night Only: The Best of Broadway, and her dog, Shayna Raya!
Latkes with sour cream!
My partner Oliver and I have been playing a lot of games (Rummikub, Bananagrams, Hearts) throughout the pandemic. He recently taught me how to play a game called “Ticket to Ride.” I got him the Europe edition for Hanukkah, but it arrived several weeks ago and I was too excited to start playing so I made him open on one random Shabbat instead. (I had to course-correct his Hanukkah gifts after that, which also brought me joy!) We play it almost every Friday night after dinner and it’s been made all the nights-in very fun. I even put up a scoreboard in our kitchen so we can keep track of all the times I beat him 😉
Usually, I host an annual Hanukkah brunch that I call “Latkes and Vodkas,” complete with latkes, sufganiyot, a Bloody Mary bar, and a hot chocolate station with peppermint schnapps, gelt, candy cane whipped cream, sprinkles, etc. While this year’s party is obviously canceled, I am channeling that energy into gift-giving and am very excited about Hanukkah bringing light and warmth to an otherwise dark time. I mailed my mom several meaningful presents, got Oliver a slew of gifts that will make outdoor, socially-distant activities more bearable this winter, and sent my best friend (who has been home with her mom in Rhode Island since we started sheltering in place back in March) a giant box with a wrapped present to open each night of the holiday. Some would call it a shopping addiction…I’m calling it “getting into the holiday spirit.”
I think checking in on your friends and family goes a long way! Nothing personally brings me more joy and warmth than a random text message from a friend. I’m being intentional about keeping in touch with my loved ones this season and reaching out to those who might feel most isolated.
Latkes, hands down. Extra crispy with sour cream AND applesauce – don’t come at me with that either/or nonsense.
Andy sipping spiced coffee in their favorite comfy chair
Andy: I’ve been trying to lean into the spirit of hygge. Though it’s increasingly dark and chilly, we’ve been stubbornly seeking light and coziness. Moon-gazing, splurging on a scented candle, reading by a soft light, and burrowing under lots of blankets are becoming staples in my household.
The moon! The gorgeous wonderful moon! With the loss of daylight hours, trying to “seek light” through moon-gazing has become a nice evening activity for Andy
Andy: To eat 🙂
Andy: In the absence of the ability to cook for people, I’m finding it really rewarding to create spaces of vulnerability and support in our new virtual world. For a few months now, I’ve been leading a Rosh Chodesh journaling group to help others up their navel-gazing game. (Email email@example.com for more details!)
Otto, the dog, who is helping Andy through the workday
Andy: This isn’t so much a favorite Hanukkah food as a fond memory. Last year, I was alone on the first night and didn’t want to make a batch of latkes just for myself. I ordered French fries from Granville Moore’s on H Street and dipped them in apple butter! It was actually really tasty!
A few years ago, Andy had the pleasure to celebrate Chanukah while living on a farm in the Pacific Northwest. It gets SUPER dark out there in winter time, which made their candles feel that much brighter
Hanukkah starts tonight and we’re sooo excited! To honor the holiday’s theme of light and joy, GatherDC is going to feature a mensch a day from around the District who brings a little sparkle into our lives.
Today, we kick things off with Pacey. Read our fun interview to find out what’s bringing her joy lately and how she spreads light to others.
Pacey: Connecting with the Jewish community to virtually celebrate Hanukkah and other events from home.
Pacey: With family and/or friends. I love reciting the blessings and lighting the candles each night. I’m truly touched to be able to virtually light the candles with GatherDC this year.
Pacey: A passion of mine is advocating for different causes and helping others with chronic illnesses and disabilities. I have two invisible chronic illnesses, POTS, and ME/CFS. Each October, I virtually walk and fundraise for my specialist, Dr. Peter Rowe, Director of the Chronic Fatigue Clinic at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, MD through team Rowe’s Research Runners.
I also became a virtual volunteer/DC voting squad captain at the non-partisan organization When We All Vote this summer. Due to the pandemic, virtual access increased and I was able to co-host/co-produce a voter registration event called ‘Voices for Voting’.
Another passion that brings me joy is singing and musical theatre, so I created a YouTube channel to spread awareness for invisible chronic illnesses/disabilities, inclusivity and accessibility. I’d like to show others that even though we’re disabled, we can still do what we love in a modified way. It’s important to adapt and work with our illnesses instead of comparing ourselves to others. It’s okay to embrace the fact that many of us need to go at our own pace.
I hope to help ensure an ongoing option that video streaming continues after the pandemic, so those who can’t physically attend gatherings will remain included. I’m so grateful GatherDC has gone above and beyond to ensure I feel supported and included.
Pacey: Latkes and chocolate gelt – not together though!