AUGUSTA — Arwen Agee doesn’t know what her two children, now 6 and 8, remember of Hanukkah celebrations before the pandemic upended daily life in central Maine and nearly everywhere else in 2020.

But on Sunday, the Gardiner family will have a chance to build new memories when Augusta’s Temple Beth El hosts its annual Hanukkah party in person for the first time since December 2019.

Hanukkah, the eight-day Festival of Lights, is an annual celebration marking the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees.

The event, which has been held every year for decades, brings together members of the congregation for food and games.

This year’s party, which starts at 4 p.m., falls on the first day of Hanukkah.

Rabbi Erica Asch said plans for the party include songs, games, a quiz, and latkes and jelly doughnuts. Among the games, she said, is the Mensch Madness Dreidel Tournament, complete with brackets. It randomly pits congregation members against one another throughout the party, and the last player standing will take home a specially made trophy.


“One of the things I love about the Hanukkah party is that it really brings all of our synagogue community together,” Asch said. “The tournament is fun way for people to meet other people they might not know or spend a lot of time with.”

The synagogue’s members come from across central Maine, from China to Montville, and from communities closer to its location in Augusta.

Like so many other things, the 2020 Hanukkah party was an online event via Zoom. And in 2021, the party was held outside in the synagogue’s parking lot.

Asch said the return to an in-person event is a welcome change, and seeing one another face to face is special.

“We’ve all really been craving in-person connection,” Asch said. “This is our season of light in a time of darkness, and I think it’s appropriate and wonderful that we’re able to gather together and celebrate that.”

For Agee and her family, not being together in person over the last couple of years has been tough.

“For kids, I feel like doing virtual celebrations is pretty challenging,” she said. “They get a lot more out of going to celebrate in person, and getting to see the other kids and getting to participate more than just looking at a screen.”

Agee said the congregation was able to gather for the Jewish high holidays in September, but this is the first Hanukkah to be celebrated together, and it’s nice that it falls on the first night of Hanukkah, when the first candle of the menorah, also known as the hanukkiah, will be lit in a communal candle-lighting.

“One of the gifts about the pandemic is making us appreciate the things that we might have taken for granted, like being able to be together in person and see one another and celebrate our holidays together,” Asch said. “I hope that’s something we don’t lose. I hope we keep the understanding of how special it is to be able to gather together in community.”

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