Despite JLife’s best efforts, L’Chaim-Chabad Lubavitch Manchester have kept modestly schtum about their momentous charitable efforts over 2020. But after a great deal of pestering, Rabbi Yisroel Cohen kindly offers an exclusive glimpse into how his organisation has brought more light to Manchester over Chanukah than ever before.

The L’Chaim Chabad Lubavitch Chanukah convoy shone its light across Whitefield.

If there’s one message I can share, it is: now is not the time to be normal. When COVID hit, we made a resolution not to try and create a semblance of normality, because we are not in normal times. We believe that during dark times you need to increase the light, as the same levels will no longer be enough.

We made a conscious decision to make 2020 the most delightfully memorable Chanukah for every section of the community. We did things on a scale like never before, from hundreds of school children taking part in our daily selfie competitions, to distributing 1,000s of menorahs and Chanukah kits across the city. Working with local schools and retirement homes, it’s miraculous just how hard our team have worked spread joy to such a variety of networks.

We have tried to do everything we possibly can within COVID regulations. Almost every night, we hosted multiple Zoom events for kids, adults and the elderly and organised more Chanukah parades than ever before – Prestwich Tesco car park was jam packed for our drive-in menorah lighting.

Our convoys brought lights and music to the streets, with retirement home residents coming to their windows and families watching in awe from their driveways. One night, a lady I’d never had the chance to meet called me. She told me she was lonely and lived on a side road with no other Jews. She said: “we’re in dark times and the weather is gloomy and I didn’t even have the willpower to even take out my menorah this year. But suddenly I heard this loud music, so I rushed to the window and saw the most amazing Chanukah parade. I just want to let you know that my menorah is now lit!” There has been so much feedback like this – thank G-d we are able to spread light and fill people with hope.

We also run the biggest kosher food bank outside London, working with local councils to provide approximately 220 households with food and household items. Over Chanukah, we held a huge toy drive for our single parents who are struggling, so they could give their children special gifts for Chanukah. Demand for our food bank has spiked tremendously, but we’re hoping this will come down as vaccinations are rolled out. Whether our referrals are Jewish or non-Jewish we are happy to provide. One instance was Reverend Christine Threlfall from our local church being forced to close her food bank in June – and we were able to load her up with produce so that she was able to reopen.

In December, we kindly declined the BBC’s offer to be part of a feature on food banks. It is a priority to maintain the dignity and confidentiality of our clients – we want to focus our energy on providing what they need, not the hoo-ha of PR. Aside from our team and the council, JLife is the first outlet we’ve shared this news with. But if one person is inspired to perform an act of kindness because they read this, even if it’s just to pick up the phone to an elderly neighbour, it makes it all worthwhile.

To make a donation towards L’Chaim-Chabad Lubavitch’s efforts, visit Lchaim.org.uk.