Now in its sixth year, “Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights” is a partnership between the Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts) and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 18. Laura Mandel, JArts executive director, promises that this year’s program will build on past successes. She recently told JewishBoston: “We’ll have all the great things we always have—music in the galleries, a gallery art talk and a custom commission. PJ Library will participate in the family part of the program, and we’ll have family-friendly performers. We’ll also have a community-created menorah that Tova Speter will collaborate with us on again.”

As she did last year, Speter, a community artist, is overseeing a community project that is a black light interactive installation. It relates to her ongoing work at The Mem Project, where people can explore their Jewish identity through art. “The MFA project is back by popular demand,” Speter said by phone. “With light as a metaphor for hope and strength, last year’s project highlighted that we are ‘Brighter Together.’ The point was that everyone’s individual lights came together to be a brighter whole. This year, we take it to the next level with ‘Brighter Beyond.’ It answers the question of what we do once we bring our lights together. The idea is to radiate our light, positivity and communal strength outward to impact those around us.”

Speter is again working with eight groups of students from four local day schools and four Boston-area public schools. Over 180 students will contribute their artwork to the larger installation at the museum. The goal, noted Speter, is to present light as a symbol of goodness, hope, resilience and community. “Everything in this installation is glowing and reactive,” she said. “Students have used some new techniques like scratch art that will glow.”

Speter has worked out a novel way for the students to interact virtually. She explained that students from one group will design a mandala. The word “mandala” is Sanskrit for “magic circle,” and students will create colorful and enchanting circles on paper plates. Students in the next group will scratch out patterns on the same plates with a toothpick, revealing motifs that were first hidden. The plates will also have messages on their edges, such as “Laugh with me, dance with me and never give up on me,” around their perimeter. “It’s a way for the students to communicate with others to bring out their light,” said Speter.


In addition, students will wear glowing bracelets to identify them as the artists involved in the project. The idea is for the participants to meet one another on the day of the MFA event. Visitors to the museum will also have the opportunity to engage with the artwork. Special markers will be available for people to draw on the walls of the installation, as well as add their own colors to the shamash candle, which is the center of the installation.

Artist Caron Tabb won a juried competition to design this year’s custom menorah, which will be on exhibit at the museum through the end of the month. Tabb calls her spectacular menorah, which is 20 feet long and eight feet high, “Persist and Rise From Ashes.” She said her artistic interpretation of the menorah “speaks to the universality of the themes of struggling and emerging and persisting for freedom.”

Tabb noted that she began constructing the menorah with four-by-four pallets of reclaimed wood, which she torched with fire. The candles are six feet tall, and the shamash stands at eight feet. The candles’ flames are fashioned from fabric that has poems and sayings on them and are stitched with chicken wire.

The choice of words comes from thought leaders and historical figures whom Tabb admires. Museum visitors will see quotes from Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Mahatma Gandhi and Hannah Senesh. Senesh wrote the following words: “There are stars whose radiance is visible on earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.”

The shamash carries a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. Tabb said the quotes run the gamut from Hebrew to English, and some are representative of the Jewish experience. Her goal is to showcase the wisdom of men and women, African Americans, Jews, Christians, Muslims and others.

Tabb noted that her selection of materials for all her work is deliberate and integral to the story she is telling. Social justice is a theme that carries throughout her art. “I take my deep love for Judaism and my Jewish identity and turn it into a universal message,” she said. “I connect the values of my Judaism to social justice and humanistic values.”

As for this new menorah, Tabb said: “The message of my work is in the materials themselves and reflects the theme of fire and rising from the ashes. There is a Hebrew saying that ‘from hardship, sweetness will emerge.’ The idea is that from struggle, something good will be reborn. That is so poignant for our time and place across the world, where people are struggling. The rise of antisemitism, Islamophobia and all the ‘isms’ we’re fighting against is in the message of the piece as well.”

Join the Jewish Arts Collaborative for an unforgettable evening for the entire family at the MFA on Dec. 18 from 4-10 p.m. Admission is free. The community lighting ceremony takes place at 6:30 p.m. in the Shapiro Family Courtyard. Find more information and a detailed schedule here.