There is no doubt that as Jews around the world lit the first candle of Hanukkah last night, everyone needed some festive cheer, light, and the reminder of miracles. The corona pandemic is yet again casting a pall this year over the festivities and general feeling of well-being, as news of the new Omicron variant takes its toll. There is even talk of a fifth wave and new restrictions coming into force.
The Hanukkah holiday celebrates the Hasmonean victory over the Syrian-Greek Seleucids in the second century BCE; how the one cruse of untainted oil lasted eight days to keep the menorah in the Temple alight; and the rededication of the Temple itself.
It is miraculous in its own way that Jews today not only still celebrate the festival, but are free to do so in their own state. Despite all the difficulties and dangers, the State of Israel continues to not only survive but thrive.
At the same time, we must not forget the modern-day threats, as talks on a renewed Iran nuclear deal are set to restart today; and as Hamas threatens to ignite a new wave of attacks after President Isaac Herzog lit candles in the Cave of the Patriarchs. But we should not give in to the threats and fears.
Like the other jihadist terrorist organizations, Hamas would like to erase all trace of Jewish ties to the Land of Israel, from the Temple Mount where the Hanukkah miracle took place more than two millennia ago, to holy sites such as the site in Hebron that Abraham purchased as a burial ground for the forefathers and foremothers of the Jewish people.
Hanukkah is a holiday that is widely celebrated by religious and secular Jews. The traditions of giving gifts, gathering to light candles, and eating oily foods – particularly donuts, latkes and sfenj – are strong. They bring people together in an era when it is only too easy to find things that divide us.
As the government reviews the regulations regarding the measures taken to tackle the pandemic, it is another reminder that we are all in this together. Everyone has to play their part.
This time last year the vaccination campaign against COVID had not yet started in Israel, and here we are, a year later, mercifully able to vaccinate the entire population from age five and up. There is no reason for anyone who can be vaccinated to turn down that gift. It has been proven beyond doubt that vaccination reduces the chance of being infected by COVID, and vastly lowers the risks of serious illness. Israel’s swift rollout of the vaccinations brought light not only at home, but served as an example and shed light around the world.
Similarly, we can be thankful that the Israeli economy remains strong despite the lockdowns and the near-total halt in tourism. As it looks now, with tourism yet again being significantly slowed down because of the restrictions being enforced to fight the Omicron variant, we should spare a thought for those whose livelihoods are most affected. During the Hanukkah holiday season, consider hiring a local tour guide if you can, for example, and helping the local economy in whatever way possible.
The word “Hanukkah” means dedication. We need to each help fight the spread of this terrible disease by all means available – vaccination, wearing masks in public, regular handwashing, and no crowding. And we need to look forward to a time when we can fully rededicate the economy, tourism, travel, cultural and religious events and a return to a better, healthy life.
The Maccabees of yore fought back and won despite the odds. We need to collectively maintain that fighting spirit today.
This year, too, we have a lot to be thankful for as we light the Hanukkah candles throughout the week. We cannot afford to rely only on miracles, but neither is there a reason to give up hope.