At home for Chanukah

In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, we need the light of hope and promise

Rabbi_Samuel_Gordon_Chanukah image

This will be our first Chanukah of the pandemic. There is sadness and disappointment, but we shouldn't despair. We have successfully celebrated Passover, Shavuot, and the High Holy Days by Zoom, Facebook, YouTube, or LiveStream. Many of us have attended Zoom bar and bat mitzvah services, brises,  baby namings, weddings, funerals, and shiva.  We have adapted and even found additional meaning in being forced to innovate and incorporate new technology. It's been different, but the internet has also allowed us to expand our events to include family and friends from near and far.

Chanukah has always been a family and home observance. We recognize that our homes are the sacred place of Judaism. Each home is a k'dat me'at -  a small Temple. Our dining room tables replaced the altar of the ancient Temple. We are used to observing Shabbat and Pesach within our homes, and so, too, with Chanukah.

We would have hoped to be able to open our doors to extended family and friends, but, during this challenging year, we need to figure out how to do so "virtually." It can be done. We can invite loved ones to a Zoom candle lighting. We can do video conferences from our kitchens as we make latkes or sufganiyot -  doughnuts. We can bring children together to play dreidel games across computer and tablet screens.

When the pandemic first shut down in-person gatherings, many of us created Pesach seders that connected us with family and friends, no matter where they live. At the High Holy Days, our synagogues responded with extraordinary creativity, quickly adapting to new realities and technologies. We have celebrated, comforted, and mourned using these tech platforms. It's all been very different, but we have been able to find spiritual meaning in new ways.

At the same time, isolation has been hard. We enter the Chicago winter knowing that there will be new challenges in the months ahead. We need to reach out to each other, especially for those who will be alone at home or those whose enforced confinement will add pressure to family dynamics. We need to be forgiving and self-aware. There are many who are feeling the economic effects of this crisis, and those who are able must offer support to those in need.

Chanukah is the Festival of Lights. In the midst of darkness, the Chanukah menorah can light up our homes. We are always reminded that the smallest candle or simplest flame can dispel the deepest darkness. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, we need the light of hope and promise. We are taught that the miracle of the eight days of oil is not merely that the one small cruse lasted the full eight days, but that those who lit the first lights trusted that the oil would last. They did not give in to despair. They chose to believe.

May this Chanukah bring joy and warmth. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Rabbi Samuel N. Gordon leads Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette.


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