Every year since the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue shooting in 2018, Janelle Diamond has opened her home for Chanukah.
“I was obviously very upset about it, and I just kept thinking, if people know us, how would they hate us?” said Diamond, 47.
Diamond lives in Towson with her husband and their four children — a 17-year-old, a 14-year-old and two 12-year-olds. Diamond is the managing editor of Baltimore Weddings and the Home Features editor and a writer for Baltimore magazine. The family belongs to Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation, and her children attend Camps Airy and Louise.
At Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom, Diamond serves on the board and on the communications and haverim committees. She also is in Na’aleh: The Hub for Leadership Learning’s Accelerate Fellowship Program.
Every Chanukah, she and her family have invited friends, colleagues and other community members into their home — a celebration complete with menorah lightings, dreidels and food.
“I make sure that every single person who wants to light [the menorah] gets to light it, and we do the prayers,” Diamond said.
She was moved when a very religious, but not Jewish, friend told her that she had texted a group to tell them she had lit her first menorah.
“I just love it,” Diamond said on her annual Chanukah tradition. “People tell me it’s one of their favorite things during the holidays. It’s just getting to be a part of something that’s so special to us.”
What makes Chanukah so special, according to Diamond, is the idea of the light, having faith and believing that things will get better. Sharing that light is an integral part of the holiday for Diamond.
“It’s a beautiful celebration, but you’re not sitting in a synagogue. It’s not a big fancy meal, so it seems like the perfect way to get as many people involved as I could,” Diamond said.
Believing that things will get better is hard at times, Diamond acknowledges, whether it’s the war in Israel, a global pandemic or another mass shooting. “I have to believe that things will get better,” Diamond noted.
“It’s a beautiful way to connect with each other,” she continued. “In our family we don’t do crazy gifts. It’s not really about the presents, it’s about gathering.”
Even during a busy week, the Diamonds focus on family.
This past December, the family hosted between 80 and 100 people across the two nights they opened their home. Feeding all those people isn’t easy, and there have been times when the food has run out.
“My husband makes a lot of potato latkes, we buy a lot of donuts, and when people offer to bring stuff, I always say yes,” Diamond said.
Not all of the food is as traditional as latkes. For example, the family also serves a platter of chicken nuggets every year, but the less traditional items are no less loved.
“People bring cookies, cheese and crackers,” Diamond said. “Someone brought a challah in the shape of a menorah this year, and then we made chicken chili the first open house and potato leek soup the second,” Diamond said.
While the assortment may not constitute a sit-down meal, everyone leaves with full stomachs and full hearts.
Another challenging aspect of hosting everyone is finding space. While Diamond acknowledges her home may not be an ideal venue for a party of this size, it’s still the perfect place.
“The important thing is being together, rather than being necessarily 100% comfortable,” Diamond said. “The comfort comes in being together. I don’t want my own feelings of whether or not it’s the right party space to dictate whether or not I’m going to have people over.”
The turnout this year was about the same as last year, which pleasantly surprised Diamond.
“With what’s going on in Israel, I wasn’t sure what kind of response there was going to be,” Diamond said. “You don’t know what people are feeling or their beliefs or if they are still supportive of you, but I was overwhelmed by how many people came.”