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Rabbi says it's 'a perfect year for Hanukkah'

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ASHLAND — On Monday, Stefani Seffinger lifted the top of a kiln to reveal the bases for three glass menorahs — gifts in honor of Hanukkah Dec. 10-18. The colorful semicircles will fit nine holders to light candles on eight night of the Jewish holiday. Each year, only a few of the time-intensive works are made in the Ashland Glass Act studio.

Tucked into the hills of Ashland, Stefani and Dan Seffinger’s home is filled with bowls inspired by tropical scenes, intricate designs woven with spaghetti-thin glass stringers and more than 20 years worth of notes on glass-working technique. The studio is packed floor to ceiling with materials for glass art — sheets, powders, strips, canes, frits, murrines and more.

The technical and creative experience they have accumulated throughout diverse artistic careers allow Dan and Stefani to create each glass menorah as a work of art, bound together with vivid colors and one-of-a-kind design.

Stefani Seffinger, an Ashland city councilor and board member for the Ashland Art Center, said the board is exploring virtual means to continue offering an artistic presence in the community, after the art center suffered a crushing blow from the pandemic. For now, some Almeda fire survivors who lost art studios are using the space at no charge.

“I don’t know that we’ll be able to keep the building,” she said. “We’re looking to see how we can support artists and at the same time learn about how this is really going to expand into more of a digital world for selling.”

During an era laden with disappointment, the Ashland community has faced rapid readjustment and reimagining of rituals that bring solace and joy, whether in the art studio, place of worship or at home.

Across town, while the Seffingers buff and finish a crucial piece of judaica central to Hanukkah, Rabbi Joshua Boettiger reflects on how Temple Emek Shalom has used virtual means to adapt religious services, including this year’s Hanukkah celebration, weddings, lifecycle ceremonies and bar and bat mitzvahs.

Generally, the synagogue has found success with a virtual approach, Boettiger said, noting a measurable uptick in people accessing services today who previously couldn’t attend in-person because of geographic location or lack of transportation, for example.

Still, a computer can’t quite replicate the smell of deep-frying latkes filling the synagogue, the glow of candles lit together in one room, or the storytelling, hugging and dancing emblematic of Hanukkah. Historically for Boettiger, Hanukkah is a time that brings Jews and non-Jews together for a celebratory community event for all the senses.

Still, putting in perspective the sacrifices that frontline, essential and health care workers have made in service to their communities makes it a bit easier to accept Zoom celebrations this year, he said.

“Instead of gathering in person, we’ll be gathering around our computers,” Boettiger said. “Like a lot of people, I think there’s some Zoom fatigue, but in general I think there’s a lot of gratitude for being able to continue to gather in this time.”

Turning to a virtual format brought some challenges in terms of identifying what it means to be a dispersed religious community and how to continue finding true connection. Boettiger credits community members for finding the way.

“We have talked about it from the beginning as not taking a break from community, but just doing community in a different way right now,” he said.

These past months of unexpected obstacles have strengthened Boettiger as a leader and individual, he said — forced to find new strategies and grow while keeping grounded in the tenets of serving others, connecting to God and treating fellow human beings with love. For himself, the Jewish faith holds useful resources for dealing with challenges facing the world today.

“I think the Jewish religion and the Jewish people have had a lot of experience in going through difficult times, to put it mildly, and having to reinvent ourselves as a community,” he said.

Boettiger acknowledged that everyone has had to adjust, regardless of their occupation, faith or corner of the planet. The shared experience of living through a pandemic that touched every continent is a rare and powerful one, and representative of a fundamental Hanukkah theme, he said. This year, the theme that resonates most deeply with Boettiger is kindling light in a time of great darkness.

“It’s kind of a perfect year for Hanukkah — I think we really need Hanukkah,” he said. “I think it’s going to be really apparent to folks when they’re lighting their menorahs, when they’re lighting their Hanukkiahs, people are going to feel that.”

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

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Andy Atkinson / Ashland TidingsStefani Seffinger opens a kiln in her home workspace to check on the condition of the glass art she’s creating.