Hannukah 2020 will be remembered as the Hannukah of COVID-19; our Festival of Lights celebrated in the shadow of death. The masks, social distancing, limited gatherings and even lockdowns that can mitigate the ravages of this plague, are unwelcome intrusions into our lives and communities. We are heartened, however, by the imminent rollout of vaccines that will liberate us from the virus’ presence in our midst. It is a glimmer of light that fills us with hope.
Hannukah is a festival of hope. For seven nights we add an additional candle, and then on the eighth night we relish the sight of our fully illuminated hannukiah, a powerful symbol that we can, and will, successful transition from darkness to light and from despair to salvation.
“Maoz Tzur” (Rock of Ages) is a beloved hymn and a spirited affirmation of survival. Its first verse is often sung immediately following the blessing and the lighting of the hannukiah. The remaining four versus retell and celebrate deliverance from four ancient enemies: Pharaoh, who enslaved our ancestors, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian tyrant who destroyed the First Temple, Haman of the familiar Purim story and Antiochus IV, who desecrated the Second Temple and whose severe decrees sought to destroy Jewish religious life.
This year we are still in the grips of COVID-19, the virus that has wreaked havoc upon our lives, our families, our economies, our societies. God-willing, we will celebrate Hannukah 2021, liberated from a deadly virus that, like the oppressors of the past, was ultimately overcome. When we kindle our Hannukah candles and chant but the first verse of “Maoz Tzur,” may we be heartened by the faith that even the darkest of times ultimately give way to the light of the morrow.
From Jerusalem, my fondest wishes for a Hag Hannukah Same’ach – a spirited and joyous celebration of our festival of eternal hope.
Arnold M. Goodman, senior rabbi of Ahavath Achim Synagogue from 1982-2002, now lives in Jerusalem.