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After 3 Major Holidays In Lockdown, This Montreal Rabbi Has Tips For How To Celebrate

Christmas advice from a Rabbi? Okay, we're listening.
Associate Editor
After 3 Major Holidays In Lockdown, This Montreal Rabbi Has Tips For How To Celebrate

Ever since Premier François Legault cancelled Christmas gatherings in Quebec red zones, Quebecers have expressed a whole gamut of emotions on the internet. From memes comparing Legault to the Grinch to social media posts poking fun at him for suggesting we "take naps" instead of gathering, disappointment is in the air.

But aside from Legault's suggestions, few people seem to be discussing what Quebecers CAN do to mark the occasion this year, and what the holidays will actually look like.

So far, no holiday as big as Christmas has taken place in lockdown... unless, that is, you don't celebrate Christmas. 

In fact, the Jewish community has already celebrated three of its biggest holidays — Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With Hanukkah starting December 10, we asked Rabbi Lisa Grushcow of Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Westmount for her tips on how to honour the holidays without sacrificing public safety. 

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Get creative online

"We've celebrated our big holidays under these restrictions [...] and it was tough, but we pivoted and we got creative and we found ways," says Rabbi Grushcow.

"I really do believe religions are resilient and creative, and individuals and families can be really resilient and creative."

Rabbi Grushcow recommends taking full advantage of the online tools at our disposal, and finding ways to make them more engaging.

"What we've learned is the more interactive, the more you see each other's faces [...] the better it is in terms of the interaction [and] in terms of really feeling like you've connected with someone," she says.

To make digital communication more interactive, Rabbi Grushcow suggests playing online games such as "Kahoot!" or using Zoom's 'breakout room' feature.

"There's ways to make sure that even if you're having a bigger event [...] people can connect to each other in smaller groups," she says.

Harness the power of delivery 

Viacheslav Iacobchuk | Dreamstime

"You can deliver something to somebody's house," says Rabbi Grushcow, noting Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom has been doing a lot of that as a synagogue.

"If you're used to sharing Christmas dinner with someone, cook a meal and leave it for them."

Of course, if you're not big into cooking, many of us are all too familiar with the diverse array of options on food delivery apps — and you can always send an order to someone else's address.

Give back 

"Finding ways to give back is hugely important in terms of doing the right thing, but also feeling that sense of purpose which is easy to lose track of over this time of lockdown," says Rabbi Grushcow.

"People who are used to cooking together in-person and sharing that food with folks who are low-income or homeless or what have you, they're still cooking and we're delivering things to organizations for people in need."

Rabbi Grushcow says her synagogue is also collecting new socks and underwear for people experiencing homelessness.

"Do things for others, find ways to connect as personally as possible," she says.

Look on the bright side

While this year's holidays are far from ideal, Rabbi Grushcow says there are ways to leverage the current circumstances.

"For instance, people had online Passover seders with family members who had never been able to travel from their locations to be together at the actual [dinner] table," she says.

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, which took place at the end of September, Rabbi Grushcow says the synagogue broadcast its services online resulting in 5,500 people watching from all around the world.

"While recognizing how much we're missing by not being together in person, there's ways to take advantage of the situation we're in to connect with people differently and to connect with different people."

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