Pandemic or no pandemic, Hanukkah will come this year as it has annually for more than 2,000 years. The people who celebrate it may have had to rethink ways of doing so, but most, including some in the Napa Valley Jewish community, plan to observe the remembrance of a long-ago miracle either way.
For instance, Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum, of Chabad of Napa Valley and Touro University California Campus Rabbi, said the plan is to host a public menorah lighting on Thursday, Dec. 2 at Veterans Memorial Park in downtown Napa.
“This year, we’ll do something for Hanukkah outdoors,” Tenenbaum said.
The observance of Hanukkah, Chabad style, involves lighting a giant menorah, and enjoying entertainment, sufganiyot (special jelly donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes with sour cream or applesauce), as well as “kids crafts, music and good cheer,” he said.
Hanukkah this year runs from Nov. 28 through Dec. 6.
Last year, though, for the first COVID Hanukkah, volunteers delivered Hanukkah packages to community members, Tenenbaum said.
This year will be a hybrid celebration, to accommodate those who want something in person as well as those not ready for crowds, Tenenbaum said.
Officials at Napa Valley’s other main Jewish organization, Beth Shalom synagogue, are hopeful something in-person can be safely pulled off, Rabbi Niles Goldstein said. Several events are planned for the first week of December.
A typical Beth Shalom Hanukkah celebration involves a party — like those done worldwide — celebrating both a military victory of a Jewish family called the Maccabees wresting control of the Second Temple in Jerusalem from the much larger forces of the Syrian Seleucid Empire – as well as “the miracle of the oil.”
As the tale goes, when the Maccabees regained control of the Temple, they needed to rededicate it, and for this, they needed special oil. But there was just one surviving vial of this oil – enough only for one day. Somehow, though, the oil in that vial lasted the entire eight days it took to produce more holy oil and get it to the Temple.
Hence, the eight days of lighting the Hanukkiah or special eight-branched candelabra (plus one for the candle with which to light the others).
The fact that this commemoration goes on, worldwide, for more than two millennia, no matter what else is going on in the world, is significant, he said.
“This light has never been extinguished, even in the worst times in Jewish history,” Goldstein said. And like the Jewish leaders in other strife-ridden Hanukkahs past, this generation of Jewish leaders will come up with a way to carry on, he said.
Tenenbaum said some positives have resulted from the shift many religious leaders, including Jewish ones, have had to make to continue doing what religious institutions do. And this is something apropos of Hanukkah.
“The idea of Hanukkah is to bring positive energy, and we need this more than ever,” he said. “Symbolized by the lighting of the menorah just as it’s getting dark, Hanukkah brings joy, light, and good spirits to humanity, publicly and at the moment of light and dusk. We bring the light in the battle against darkness. We need to shine the light on the darkness now, more than ever, and humanity can benefit from this tremendously.”