Progressively Speaking: Chanukah’s true meaning will see us through the pandemic

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Progressively Speaking: Chanukah’s true meaning will see us through the pandemic

Rabbi Mark Goldsmith takes a topical issue and provides a Reform response

The story of Chanukah that we tell when we light our Chanukiah is based on the one day’s supply of oil, which lasted for eight days when the Maccabees rededicated the Temple.   

This year as we light the candles, we can celebrate one month’s patience for the most recent restrictions on our lives, and the eight – and who knows for how many more – months of disruption Covid-19 has brought.

Just as when we light the Chanukah candles we do so in a spirit of hope for the Jewish future, so, too, can we do so in a spirit of hope for our community despite this awful year. The word Chanukah means “dedication” and that is why we can have great hope today.   

Jews have continued to dedicate themselves to Judaism, despite the virus, by finding ways to safely attend worship at their synagogue and online through a wonderful variety of virtual services.   

We have dedicated ourselves to Jewish learning. The ability to do so from home has made learning accessible to people who couldn’t normally participate.   

My Talmud class now includes many people who would have found it very difficult to come into synagogue to learn on a Sunday morning, but can easily do so from home.  

Our synagogues have dedicated themselves to the creativity needed to keep their congregations engaged in Jewish life. A large number of volunteers have been dedicated to relieving the loneliness of the isolated by phoning, visiting from the end of the front path, making extended family bubbles, being in contact more than we would normally do.  Many synagogues have organised food deliveries to their congregants’ doorsteps.    

 We have found ways to remain dedicated to the memory of the loved ones we have lost, whom we were unable to physically accompany to their final resting place or hold an in-person shiva, by virtual shiva prayers which felt especially meaningful as we included relatives from around the world through screens.     

The terrible restrictions Antiochus Epiphanes put on Judaism led to the Maccabee rebellion, resulting in a newly-strengthened Jewish people under the Hasmonean dynasty.   

If we retain the dedication to creativity and accessibility we have shown through this period to continuing Jewish life, think how we could thrive as a people when it is over.

  •  Rabbi Mark Goldsmith is senior rabbi of Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue

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