This year, Hanukkah begins on December 10th and ends on December 18th.
For many, this Hanukkah will be like no other, celebrated in isolation, either alone or only with close family members. Yet Hanukkah is a time of miracles, when we remind ourselves and the world that God is present in our lives, that miracles happen, and that anything is possible. Let us take it as a special moment to think about the coming blessed times.
Until now certain rituals and customs in our community had to be adapted to meet Covid-19 guidelines.
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot normally involve packed synagogues and large family gatherings, but for 2020 this was not to be, the synagogues to ensure social distancing and avoid communal prayer shawls and books. In homes, it was not only a 1.5-meter rule, because the person blowing the shofar (ram’s horn) for Rosh Hashanah should keep 2m from other worshippers and should not be blown towards anyone.
For the Days of Awe, the central feature of the Jewish religious year, many of its traditions were impossible this year. With the relaxation offered now to the religious groups one still has to remember to have the reduced amount of people in one place and to have the mask-wearing is advised, whilst people should from Sunday onwards not mix in groups of more than 15 in line with the limits on social gatherings and the “bubble-rule”.
To avoid unnecessary contact with others and because children under the age of 12 can’t attend the main services, people still are requested to try to have their worship services in their own small bubble at home. For that reason the Jeshuaist communities in Belgium did not have any public meetings and made it possible to have virtual meetings, so that the sense of community gathering could still be felt. The streaming of our services and Bible studies has been very succesful.
The opportunities for spirituality and reflection during the High Holy Days have, in one sense, have been “enhanced” by the restrictions. We should use our senses and avoid unnecessary contact with several people and as such the family meal shall have to be restricted to their own household itself. Several members hope to share their meals via video call and expressed their will to play games by internet connection with several family members and friends. Though some say it will be “difficult” to recreate family moments online and worry time will be spent focusing on IT issues rather than on the “joy of being in the same physical space and catching up” with each other.
Michael Freilich rightly mentioned the problem of some Orthodox and conservative Jews, who have no computer, radio and television or do not want to use them. For them, certainly when some are packed in a small apartment with ten familymembers, makes it not easy to be limited in their movements all the time. For many of time the time spent with others in the synagogue or in the park was would be a welcome relief.
Those who do not mind modern tools, shall already be happy and satisfied to settle for dinner via an iPad:
“Whilst it is better than nothing, it does make these occasions less intimate.”
Despite the auspicious time of year, congregants are urged not to attend synagogue until they feel safe.
People “can still fully engage with the wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods “at home”, despite it being “dampened” by the restrictions.
Last year we called to put a menorah visible for others. Let there even be more light for others this year.
Even if you will be the only one to witness the light in your house, be not disapointed but let this symbol also be a sign of our unity and use this year as a time to relax and meditate. Sometimes people are so busy running to Hanukkah parties or preparing to host and bring Hanukkah joy to others, that they barely find time to contemplate the candles and the message they impart. In the words of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the sixth Chabad rebbe,
“We must listen to what the flames tell us,”
and think deeply into the story of Hanukkah, the sacrifices our ancestors made to preserve Judaism, and the miracles God performed — and still performs — for us.
Let us play it on the safe side. With the extra time our seclusion has afforded us, let us make this time of isolation, a time of reflection, focusing on the messages of this set apart day and how they apply to us today, and use the time for looking forward to bettering times to come. With modern technology we can visit with anyone, anywhere, anytime, connecting with friends and family on Zoom, Facetime, and other platforms.
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