YES Prep Public Schools
Celebrating the holidays will look very different this year. We asked Shaina Bielaz, a Research and Data Analyst at the YES Prep Home Office, to share how her family will be partaking in this year’s Hanukkah traditions.  

In your own words, what is Hanukkah? 

Chanukah is one of the many stories in the history of Jews being forbidden to practice their faith. The holiday celebrates both the Maccabees' fight for religious freedom against the Greeks and the rededication of the Second Temple. The Maccabees were victorious and rebuilt the Second Temple. However, there was only enough oil to light the menorah (seven candles) for one day. The oil lasted eight days, the Chanukah miracle! To me, Chanukah is a celebration of miracles, light, and rededication. Personally, one of my favorite parts of this holiday is lighting the Chanukah menorah and displaying it in the widow of our home for everyone to see. It reminds me of how lucky I am to live in a place where I practice my religion freely. Its also a joyous holiday that celebrates miracles, hope and light.

December 2018

How do you and your family celebrate Hanukkah?

Usually, our family invites all of our friends and family to our home throughout the eight nights of Chanukah. We host a latke (fried potato pancake) and sufganiot (jelly filled donuts) dinner, light all of our Chanukiahs, say the blessings over the candles, sing songs, and give the children gifts. This year we won’t be able to host inside our home, but we plan on lighting the Chanukiah outside, masked, and socially distant with friends and family.

In our family, gifts are mainly just for children. We usually give our kids gifts on just a few nights and the other nights other family members give them a gift. Kids also play dreidel (a spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side) with chocolate Chanukah gelt (coins). For me, watching my kids sing Chanukah songs and the blessings over the candles is the best part of the holiday. Chanukah is also a great opportunity for the kids to practice gratitude and generosity by receiving and giving gifts to friends and family.

Every year my husband makes sufganiot from scratch and they are delicious! Traditionally they are filled with jelly, but he also loves to make them filled with chocolate and cajeta (thickened caramel)! He is from the Jewish community in Monterrey, Mexico so he brings many new flavors and traditions that he grew up with. I make potato latkes, but nothing beats my mom’s latkes. She grates the potatoes by hand – I use the food processor! I like to put apple sauce on my latkes, my husband puts sugar and cinnamon, and my mom likes sour cream. But one thing is for sure, our house smells like fried food for eight days!

How did you celebrate Hanukkah differently this year because of the pandemic?  

This year looked different since we couldn't have people inside our home. My husband built a large Chanukiah out of electrical conduit and placed it out on our front yard. We invited friends, family, and neighbors to light it with us each night, masked and socially distant of course. The pandemic has made celebrating the Jewish holidays hard since we can’t be together physically, but it has also helped us think outside of the box. We have done video calls with family for other Jewish holidays during the pandemic so we saw family for Chanukah that live all over the world. I am excited to have the new Chanukiah in front of our house and to still have been able to see our friends and family in a safe way. I hope many of the new ways of celebrating the holidays will continue even after the pandemic.

About the author
Shaina Bielaz was born and raised in Houston, TX in an observant Conservative Jewish home. Her mother, a devoted Educational Diagnostician, inspired her to work in education. Shaina graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics. After college graduation, she taught high school math and economics at the ITESM – Preparatoria Tec Campus Eugenio Garza Sada in Monterrey, Mexico. Shaina’s husband, Mauricio, is from Monterrey, Mexico and they have three children, Oren (7), Dori (5) and Talia (2), who are bilingual in Spanish and English. Shaina joined YES Prep in March 2016 and has been on the Data and Analytics team ever since. When Shaina isn’t working, she enjoys spending time with her immediate and extended family, listening to podcasts, exercising and binging the latest TV series.