Spreading light around

·4 min read

Following a period of isolation, Jewish people across the world have more freedom to gather and celebrate this Hanukkah season.

Celebrating the successful revolt of the Maccabees, the eight-night festival (which can also be spelled Chanukah) sees families lighting a nine-branch candelabrum called a menorah. Each night, one additional candle is lit in remembrance of the oil that miraculously burned for eight days in the holy temple in Jerusalem, although there was only enough for one day.

In 2021, Hanukkah will be celebrated from Nov. 28 to Dec. 5. And this year, spreading light is more important than ever, says Rabbi Susie Tendler of Beth Tikvah.

“I showed kids at the (Richmond Jewish) Day School the other day: generally if you gave something you’d have half of it, if you gave your light it would diminish your own,” she says. “The reality with light is, when you share light it magnifies it and makes it almost double. When you put two wicks together, the sum is greater than the parts. For me, that is a metaphor for this particular holiday season of us all working to get light out there and really spread communal light.”

Following a year of virtual connection, Tendler says actually being able to share space with people helps communicate energy.

“When I ask people what’s the difference, certainly there’s a physicality,” she says. “Even if you don’t touch one another, our bodies generate heat, (and) we know that the best way of staying warm is to be next to another human being. And that warmth, to me, it’s the same concept as light. What does light create also—warmth.”

With virtual gatherings, each person appearing in a little box effectively puts walls around them.

“I feel that this season is about taking down those barriers and creating warmth and light and that’s what this year for many people begins to feel like. And yet, at the same time, we need to hold those for whom it doesn’t feel safe yet still very close and do our best to send that energy, surround them with that energy to make sure that they know that we are very much awaiting the day when it feels safe for them to come and feel welcomed also, to know that we’re missing them.”

Beth Tikvah is planning a number of Hanukkah events for kids, families and adults.

Also marking the occasion is Chabad Richmond, which will host a Hanukkah skate at Minoru Arenas on the first night of the celebration, Nov. 28. More information about this is available online.

Rabbi Yechiel Baitelman of Chabad Richmond says it’s important for people to come together, particularly at times of celebration.

“We need to find ways, as we continue to make progress with this pandemic, to safely and securely in a healthy way come together and be able to celebrate together and be in each other’s company,” he says. “It’s a special connection to Hanukkah here especially. Hanukkah is celebrated with the lighting of candles—candles are beautiful in that they bring light and they shed warmth, and we are always drawn to things that are bright and warm, so we’re drawn to the candles.”

In Jewish mystical teachings, each human being is also said to be a candle, exuding light and warmth. So at this time of year, people are drawn to each other to come together.

“Hanukkah is the message and the victory of light over darkness, of hope over despair, and it just takes one small candle to dispel lots of darkness,” says Baitelman. “And so while we need to be cautious and careful, we also have to be very hopeful and positive. I’m a big believer that the happiness itself will bring a lot of goodness—rather than waiting for good things to happen and then (becoming) happy, we should be happy and good things will happen.”

Chabad and The Bayit are looking forward to welcoming Richmondites of all faiths to their joint menorah-lighting event, scheduled for Dec. 5 outside the Brighouse library branch.

Rabbi Levi Varnai of The Bayit says it’s exciting to be able to hold the decades-old event again after a year off. And the fact that the event falls on the last night of Hanukkah means that people will be able to see the menorah fully lit up.

“Hanukkah is a holiday of light. The world every year needs light—especially this year,” says Varnai. “I don’t think we’re out of the woods yet, but I think there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. We need some light and hope now.”

Varnai adds that dark times are not incessant, and light always ends up winning—despite the sadness that surrounds us.

“It gives us some perspective, as the world is starting to open, that light always prevails—and that’s the message of Hanukkah. It was true 2,000 years ago, it’s true today, and it’ll be true 2,000 years from now.”

Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel

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