1. ADVANCE PLANNING
By the time you send your guests a Zoom link, you should have communicated all the key information you want them to know, including tech instructions, the start time and ending time of your Zoom gathering, requests of what to bring or have at the ready, and any information about how to participate on the day of the event.
Examples of items to consider asking your guests to have handy:
- Hanukkiah (Hanukkah Menorah), candles, matches
- A snack (latkes and sufganiyot encouraged)
- A quote or poem about light
- A phone, in addition to laptop or computer, so they can join you in a family Kahoot or other online game
- A dreidl or other physical game
- Supplies for an art project or mitzvah project that you will do together
- A photo from a past Hanukkah that brings them joy, which they can “screen share” and describe
It’s helpful to write out an agenda/order of service, with “parts” assigned. Who will recite blessings? Who will lead songs or discussions, and in what order?
Many people of all ages are experienced Zoomers by now. If your friends and family are not tech-savvy, send screen shots of the icons and step-by-step instructions via email. Consider connecting the generations by asking teens to assist the elderly, if and when necessary.
Most of all, part of planning is allowing for the possibility of glitches, despite your best efforts. Who will you rely on to be a troubleshooter on the day of the event if there are technical difficulties? On the invitation and/or in a reminder email or evite let your guests know whom to contact if they are having trouble.
2. SOUND: ENSURE CLARITY (as best you can)
Bad sound – even more than sketchy visuals – can frustrate participants in an online gathering. If necessary, confirm the connectivity in the place you intend to be for your Hanukkah gathering. Does it matter how close to the router you are? Will you have multiple screens in use at once in your location, and will that slow your devices down? You probably know how close you need to be to your device to be heard and to hear well. If not, play with the sound settings to find what works best.
Cacophony tends to result when folks sing together on Zoom. Designate different households or individuals to sing the different blessings and songs, while others stay muted or respond only with “Amen.”
Planning to play some live Hanukkah music on Zoom? Anyone playing a musical instrument should use the advanced Zoom options to disable the settings that suppress persistent background noise and intermittent background noise, and then click on the button that allows them to “Turn on Original Sound.”
Of course, you can always pre-record yourself (or a group) playing and singing, and then “screen share” the video.
If screening any video, be sure to tick the box that says “optimize for video” in Zoom settings, which should help for syncing sound and picture.
3. VISUALS: LIGHT UP THE NIGHT AND BEAUTIFY THE MITZVAS
The good news is that you don’t have an entire house to decorate. You just need to attend with care to a few square feet. Make sure that you are visible in reasonably flattering lighting. You should not have bright lights behind you because your face will be obscured. Lighting in front of you and from the sides can be adjusted, based on what looks good to you on your screen. Use overhead lights, lamps, string lights, ring lights, and, of course, Hanukkah candles.
Since March, we have all occasionally cringed while looking up people’s nostrils or past their foreheads at their ceiling fan, because they did not adjust their camera angles. Use furniture, boxes, stacks of books, or other stable surfaces, so that you can place your camera or computer at eye level or, even more flattering, slightly above with the monitor tilted down. Then folks can see your whole smiling face, and not be distracted from your purpose and message.
Some participants get the angle just right, but then place their notes on a table in front of them, so that when their time comes to speak all you see is the top of their heads as they look down. When speaking, use a physical stand to prop up your written notes, tape them just below the eye of your camera, speak from notes or a written text on your screen, or use a teleprompter app on your iPad or computer. Usually, it’s best to choose an option that is similar to what you use regularly, so that you feel most comfortable and are not distracted by the mechanics of a new system.
Hang Hanukkah decorations, show a vase of beautiful flowers, display a plate of latkes. If you have Hanukkah-themed t-shirts or sweaters, wear those. Zoom close-ups will even capture Hanukkah nail art or earrings. You can also choose from Virtual Hanukkah Zoom backgrounds.
Make sure to ask your guests explicitly if you want to encourage people to wear a kippah or a certain color or style of dress.
4. BEGINNINGS & ENDINGS
Depending on the style of your event and the size of your crowd, you may just schedule some open-ended schmoozing for a large part of your Zoom call. But the beginning and ending of your event need to be orchestrated.
The way you open sets the tone, and the way you close can be a beautiful summation of the meaning, purpose, and joy of the gathering. If you are clear, mindful, and organized about the beginning and end, a lot of other looseness and even glitches will be forgiven – or even charming.
5. GET SUPPORT
Zoom provides free tutorials, and there are also third-party tutorials and articles to help you make the most out of Zoom – or any other online platform.
Depending on the size of your gathering, you may want to solicit co-host(s) who can help with muting, unmuting, spotlighting, and troubleshooting any tech issues. Those folks may be among your guests, but it’s also possible to hire a teen to assist your group.
If you are planning an elaborate event or will have a big crowd, you can even schedule a rehearsal with a few key presenters to work out any technical kinks.
6. VARY THE NIGHT
Variety is the spice of your Hanukkah Zoom event! Here are some elements to consider, as you balance between informal, spontaneous shmoozing and planned activities.
- Recite the blessings and sing some songs (naturally!)
- Play games, including dreidl, Hanukkah Kahoot, or do a trivia contest
- Screen Hanukkah song parodies from 613 or the Maccabeats, or create your own and perform them live
- Do some Hanukkah art together. (Send out supplies list in advance per tip #1, or share online resources such as these free downloads for coloring or papercutting.)
- Put on your own, participatory “cooking show” – have a family member demonstrate a Hanukkah (or family) recipe, and cook and eat it together. (Send out ingredients list in advance. See #1).
- Do a mitzvah project together. Make holiday cards for hospital patients or nursing home residents. Make face shields for hospital workers. Be sure to research in advance where the finished products will be welcome, so you can guide your guests where to send them.
- Watch a short film together discuss it. It could be something light (like a Hanukkah-themed TV episode for kids or adults) or serious (a documentary short that deals with religious freedom).
7. USE THE KEYBOARD TO ENGAGE YOUR GUESTS
You can use the chat to invite responses to ice-breaker questions, news, words of blessing, riddles, etc. If you give people advance instructions, you can also encourage them to use the “change name” feature in Zoom to add a one-or two-word Hanukkah blessing or under their picture on the screen. Always invite people to participate, don’t demand it. “I invite you now…” “If you choose to, please …” are good ways to begin.
If you will ask everyone to participate, then put a reminder in the chat of highpoints to cover. E.g.,
- “Please take a minute or two to tell where you are Zooming from, your favorite fried food, and the story behind the picture you are sharing.”
- “Please introduce yourself, share your earliest Hanukkah memory, and tell us the quote you prepared about Jewish identity, religious freedom or the right to be different.
In addition to or instead of “going around the room” with introductions, invite people to participate in the chat, by responding to a specific question. E.g.,
- What is one way that you – or we – could bring more light to the world this year?
- Putting the Hanukiah in the window is a way of “advertising the miracle.” What miracle (Hanukkah related or otherwise) would you like to advertise/shout from the rooftops?
8. MAKE IT EASY TO INTERACT AND BECOME INVOLVED (especially with a large group)
You might want to designate an MC, who can call on folks by raising their “blue Zoom hands” to participate. The MC could invite people to share a joke, photo, poem, quote, memory, update, blessing for the family, hope for the future, Hanukkah song, etc. (Some fun and meaningful items require advance preparation, and many can be shared on the fly. If asking folks to prepare something in advance, be sure to let them know – see #1).
To showcase speakers, helpers can use the Zoom Spotlight feature (see #5). Alternatively, simply encourage participants to use the Speaker View.
If you are planning a large gathering, consider staggering invitation times, so that you do not have too many folks arrive or depart all at once. If there are different groups (friends from work, family members, shul buddies), you probably want to keep the invitation times the same for members of each group.
For over 20 screens, use the “break-out” rooms to facilitate structured conversations (with facilitators or suggested questions or topics) or informal shmoozing. Divide people randomly or put together groups as you would if organizing tables or place settings (e.g., assemble a group of folks who rarely get to see each other, or gather all the teens). You can also do a couple of short break-out sessions with different combinations of people, mimicking in-person mingling or switching of tables. Finally, people can self-select break-out rooms based on their interests. Create one Zoom room for a game of dreidl, one Zoom room for schmoozing, and one Zoom room for making an origami Hanukkiah together, and let people decide where they want to go.
Be sure to guide people on the timing and technology. For example, tell them that they will simply have to click “join” to enter a break-out room – and will then be “beamed back” into the full group automatically at the end of seven minutes.
Happy Hanukkah! חג אורים שמח Happy Festival of Lights!