I know that many of you are feeling weary from the hardships of COVID. Parents, teachers and caretakers of children have had to rise to the occasion so much: Consider all the ways you have been troopers, keeping spirits uplifted for your children and yourselves. How much longer? we wonder. On top of everything else, do we not even get to enjoy Hanukkah or any part of the holiday season, for that matter? Even the most optimistic people are feeling bouts of sadness, frustration and anger right now. But I believe some of this frustration and anger may be the catalyst to fuel and fan the flames of positive change.
In this vein, I feel we are now being given an opportunity to go back to the days when the holiday was more like Thanksgiving: a day of gratitude. Hanukkah was originally a holiday of lights, miracles, rededication to the Temple, overcoming impossible odds and recommitting to our faith. The story of Hanukkah harkens us back to the time when Jerusalem was taken over by the tyrant King named Antiochus. He outlawed the practice of Judaism and violated the people's beliefs by putting idols of Zeus in the Sacred Temple and pouring pigs' blood on the Torah scrolls. A small group of Jewish rebels fought back; they were called the Maccabees, and despite the odds, they triumphed and cleaned up the Temple that had been destroyed. They rededicated themselves—the Hebrew word Hanukkah, which means rededication. Thus, they recommitted to their faith and belief in God and Jewish practices. The holiday became an indelible memory and lesson in the minds of the Jewish people. It is an example of how life is unpredictable. There will be times of plenty and times when we are faced with pandemics, wars, loss and societal unrest. This story calls on us to not be afraid, to stand up to adversity, and to be our best selves when all those around us are not. Like the Maccabees who fought against impossible odds, we must look to our inner strength and convictions to keep our shining light burning and to not allow that light to go out. It reminds us that when things look most grim, we have the DNA of our ancestors to be resilient and carry on. Judaism is a religion that teaches us to look at life from a prism-like perspective. Our holy scripture is understood through the lens of different interpretations and stories handed down by brilliant thinkers. This is a clear reminder that we can re-frame the way we approach Hanukkah. Wherever the Jewish people went, they brought their customs and adapted many of them to fit into the cultures to which they assimilated. For example, the dreidel game was adopted in Germany to keep the children engaged in the story of Hanukkah—that's what the paintings or engravings on the four faces of the dreidel are for. We have the opportunity this year to put the practice of our values first as part of our Hanukkah celebration. We can lead with gratitude, stories of inspiration, giving instead of receiving, and simple pleasures, rather than succumb to the pressure of materialism. If we are doing this together as a community, we can succeed in making Hanukkah more meaningful and contribute to the greater good for all. So a word to the many who are alone and feeling isolation during these trying times: When you light the menorah candles during Hannukah, it is an opportunity to transcend the loneliness and feel comfort in knowing that you are connected to millions of Jews all over the globe who are simultaneously lighting menorah candles. These are the same candles that have been lit for thousands of years through our rich history. There is a beautiful story I heard that warmed my heart so much that I wanted to pass it on as a gift for you to share: The late Rabbi Hugo Gryn was a British Reform rabbi, a regular broadcaster and a leading voice in interfaith dialogue. When he was a child in Auschwitz, the holiday of Hanukkah came. After fashioning a makeshift menorah, his father melted their precious margarine ration to light a wick for the first night. The young Hugo, outraged, protested to his father. How could he use the food which sustained them amid such horror, just to observe the holiday? His father spoke words he never forgot. He said: "My child, we know you can live three days without water. You can live three weeks without food. But you cannot live for three minutes without hope." This message shook me to the core. This is my prayer for all of us this year. Take the holiday time to remember the stories that have given you insight. As the singer-songwriter, Carly Simon sings, "These are the good old days," and take the time to create the stories of how you have enhanced the spirit of Hanukkah during the Pandemic.