This year, the Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts) will again take over much of the Museum of Fine Arts for the fifth annual Hanukkah: Festival of Lights celebration on Wednesday, Dec. 5. Two large-scale menorahs will be featured at the museum that night. The first, made by sculptor Silvina Mizrahi, will capture the spirit of the Western Wall and will be lit by CJP president and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker.

The second menorah, called “Brighter Together,” is a community collaboration of interactive glowing black art facilitated by artist Tova Speter. Speter recently spoke to JewishBoston about the intricacies involved in bringing together over 100 school children working in groups of eight to create art that will be on display as an eight-foot high, 35-foot wide menorah. Additionally, museum visitors will have an opportunity to engage, interact and contribute to the piece the night of the festival by creating the shamash—the ninth candle that kindles the other Hanukkah lights.


Laura Mandel, executive director of JArts, noted that Speter’s undertaking, which includes Jewish day school students and students in Boston’s public schools, “is an additional way we’re spreading the light and the miracle of Hanukkah. It’s an innovative way of bringing kids into the conversation and to have Jewish and non-Jewish kids be in dialogue with one another.”

To set that interfaith dialogue in motion, Speter had to work around challenging logistics. “In total, I worked with eight groups of students—four of them were from day schools and four from public schools or afterschool programs,” she said. “I knew they couldn’t be together in real time. I partnered one community group with a Jewish group and they worked together virtually to contribute a piece of the menorah. Each group made a video to show the next group how they were working together in this common goal.”

Silvina Mizrahi’s Western Wall menorah sculpture (Courtesy photo)

With the working relationship established, Speter then decided that the exhibit would present a black light experience. With an entire room dedicated to the collaborative installation, black light will exclusively light the space. “All of the materials the students are using are black light UV reactive,” she said. “What we’ll end up creating is a giant abstract menorah, which will be eight columns of artwork dropping from the ceiling and almost reaching the floor. Picture a hula hoop from the top and dangling down are all of these pieces of art to form a cylinder to mimic this idea of a large menorah. The shamash will be created with art that visitors to the exhibit will make that night. That’s the community element—everyone brings light to the project.”

Speter and Mandel noted that contributing light is a running theme of the evening. The exhibit will ultimately demonstrate that the world is a brighter place when people come together. “We all have light to give to our community, each other and the world,” said Speter. She added that a quote from Maya Angelou—“Nothing can dim the light that shines from within”—inspired the work for this year’s Hanukkah celebration. Speter said she hopes that discussions in the student workshops will enable students to add light at home and in school. The neon and fluorescent colors reinforce the theme through glowing representations.

Speter has also figured out a way for students to meet each other on Dec. 5. Students will make glow-in-the-dark bracelets to wear to the museum. “The bracelet,” she noted, “empowers and identifies students as artists. When they come into the room, they will be literally glowing as artists and make the connection that they worked on the project.”

In addition to the art projects, diverse musical groups will perform throughout the museum. Among them is Jim Guttman, a bassist from the Klezmer Conservatory Band, who will be on hand with his band Bessarabian Breakdown—a fusion of big-band jazz and klezmer. The Josiah Quincy Orchestra Program, a school that participated in making the glowing menorah, will perform songs about winter and light. PJ Library’s staff will conduct storytelling and musical events, and Rabbi Dan Judson will wander through the museum to tell Moth-style stories about Hanukkah.

“We’re focusing on community this year and what diversity can look like,” said Mandel. “We’re taking things to a whole new level with the artwork and the communities new to the event who are co-creating a piece.”