Finding Appreciation for This Year's Hanukkah

December 07, 2020

Finding Appreciation for This Year's Hanukkah

When many of us conducted our first seder via zoom, little did we know that come fall, we would also be celebrating Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur online from our living rooms or the synagogue parking lot. Nor did we foresee sitting in our sukkah socially distanced from just a few people or attending weekly services online or in a neighbor’s back yard.

So here we are at Hanukkah, making plans with family and friends to ‘zoom’ candle-lighting, arranging for drive by parties, and still unable to safely celebrate latke dinners in person.

None of us could have imagined the past year and how our Jewish (and secular/everyday) activities would be so different. For many of us, we did not know how much we would miss going to synagogue, attending simchas and community events, and even being able to visit a shiva house to comfort mourners. There have been many creative solutions to not being able to gather in person which have, for the time being, helped us to adapt and survive.

Which brings me back to Hanukkah. What we are doing now is what Jews have done for centuries – faced hard times and seemingly insurmountable obstacles with strength, determination and creativity, in order to (literally) live another day. This then enables our people to survive and thrive from one generation to the next.

During Hanukkah, we celebrate the triumph of the small band of Maccabees in their battle against those insisting that everyone adopt Hellenistic practices. By all accounts, the Maccabees should have lost; they were greatly outnumbered and out-armed by the Greek Armies. And yet, through their creativity and strength (G-d being on their side probably didn’t hurt), they prevailed. As the story is told in the Books of Maccabees, Mattathias and his forces determined that they had to fight on the Shabbat – so as not to be vulnerable to attack. They did what they had to do. The ensuing battles were bloody and vicious, with the Maccabees resorting to guerilla warfare. One could imagine how, in the midst of their battles, they might have had doubts and given over to despair. But they didn’t. And because they survived, here we are, still kindling our candles, living our faith, and bringing light to our world. The Maccabees improvised then, just as we improvise now.

The book of Zechariah teaches: “Not by might, nor by my power shall we live, but by my spirit says the Lord”(4:6). We have relied on both our physical and spiritual strength throughout the generations. Those same creative powers continue to serve us today. As we light our hanukkiah this year, may we continue to be inspired by the Maccabees’ ability to adapt, and be blessed with our own resilience and strength.

Hag urim sameach: Happy Hanukkah!

- Rabbi Judith Beiner, JF&CS Community Chaplain