Miracles. Gratitude. Joy. As families at Congregation Beth Evergreen celebrated Hanukkah this week, they also celebrated the miracle of family, talked about their gratitude for the blessings in their …
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Miracles. Gratitude. Joy.
As families at Congregation Beth Evergreen celebrated Hanukkah this week, they also celebrated the miracle of family, talked about their gratitude for the blessings in their lives, and they were joyful that technology allowed them to congregate virtually to celebrate the menorah candle-lighting traditions.
Hanukkah, sometimes called the Festival of Lights, began at sundown on Dec. 10 and runs through sundown on Dec. 18, and Rabbi Jamie Arnold conducted a virtual ceremony with 30 families Thursday to light the first candle. They sang songs and talked about what they were grateful for.
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem in 164 B.C. after three years of war. There was only enough oil to keep the temple’s menorah burning for one day, but the flame continued burning for eight days until a new oil supply could be found. This is the basis for the eight-day Hanukkah celebration.
Marilyn and Irv Saltzman of Conifer would normally have celebrated the first night of Hanukkah with a large group of family with gifts, food and decorations, but this year, it was much simpler with only their grandchildren to help them light the candle.
“I ordered a beeswax candle-making kit — a fundraiser for Beth Evergreen — and we made our own candles and painted our own dreidels,” Marilyn Saltzman said.
She said when the family held an abbreviated Passover Seder dinner in April, she thought COVID-19 would be a distant memory by Hanukkah.
“Here we are at Hanukkah,” she said, “and not being able to see family and friends. Yet, we feel so fortunate for what we do have living in this community and in this beautiful mountain area.”
She said the changed Hanukkah has been good — better than nothing — and she wonders if the pandemic could create new rituals for her family.
While the Saltzmans were at home, Jackie Mohr of Evergreen spent the first night of Hanukkah driving to the homes of her children to impart the holiday spirit. She brought homemade latkes — similar to potato pancakes — gifts and decorations, hoping to bring some normalcy while keeping her family safe.
“Nothing feels normal around here,” Mohr said. “I feel sad but also grateful. It means more to us to do for our kids right now and let them still feel special.”
Arnold spoke during the candle-lighting ceremony that especially in 2020, a spark of light can make a huge difference, dispelling fear and the sense of scarcity that many feel.
“We really need to find ways to express our gratitude, especially with so much fear around,” he said. “We need to look for ways to count our blessings.”
An energizing, yet difficult year
Arnold said the synagogue — just like area churches — has been looking for ways to connect. Zoom services, virtual classes and other offerings, a few of them outdoors, have allowed some of the 200 families in the congregation to connect.
“On the energizing side, (virtual gatherings) have allowed us to expand our reach, so we can reach more people in different places and different life circumstances,” Arnold said. “It’s energizing to explore those opportunities.”
He said for years he had considered putting a small amphitheater behind the church, but COVID-19 has accelerated those thoughts because it would be perfect for outdoor services and concerts.
Arnold said closures because of the pandemic have made him keenly aware of how important in-person interaction is. Services, he said, are built around communal singing and interpersonal conversation.
“That part is really irreplaceable,” he said. “I will certainly be glad when we can gather in numbers higher than 25 safely again.”
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