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From Rabbi David - Thoughts on Hanukkah and Community

12/10/2020 01:07:59 PM


Dear Friends,

This year, I am thinking about how Hanukkah reckons with the past to guide us toward a future shaped by our yearnings for justice, wonder, and the depth of human connection.

It seems that the Rabbis knew that the original story of Hanukkah was too fraught to stand on its own as the foundation for a sacred and celebratory holiday. The triumph of the Maccabees in the original text in the Aprocrypha, while throwing off the oppressor and bringing hope and liberation, raised additional questions about the problems of militarism, power, zealotry and intra-communal conflict.  But the Talmudic story of the miracle of one canister of pure oil for the Temple lights that lasted for eight days, a story the Rabbis invented out of whole cloth, resets the holiday.  Instead of discussing how or whether to emulate the Maccabees, the great sages of the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel debate how to light lamps at the darkest time of the year.  Our practice of adding a candle each night follows Hillel, with the rationale that we “ascend in holiness, and do not descend (B. Talmud, Shabbat, 21b).”  And so, the Talmud transforms Hanukkah into a festival of light by radically re-interpreting the past in order to celebrate the aspirations and dimensions of the human spirit. 

9 months into our pandemic, with likely several months to go until vaccines are widely available, I find myself embracing Hanukkah as a frame to imagine how we will all emerge from this time of illness, fear, and struggle.  I, like all of you, know people whose lives have been devastated by Covid and the accompanying despair of this moment, and speak with many who live in ongoing fear over their own vulnerability or those whom they love.  I regularly speak with parents who struggle to provide their children with meaningful and educational experiences in this time, and with young people frustrated by the challenges of finding companionship and work.   

And yet, I am also inspired by elders and other vulnerable people in our community who have adapted and found ways to live with a measure of satisfaction and purpose.  I am amazed that people I know who struggle to keep up with work, family and social connections often reassure me that they are holding up and managing. And despite our collective isolation, I know that in the future, I will think of this time as one when we joined together to protest racial injustice, hear the Shofar in the CBI parking lot, and spontaneously celebrate online and downtown at the prospect of a hopeful future.

For our community, I am similarly taking the opportunity Hanukkah affords to look back so as to envision greater hope, solidarity and celebration for the time ahead.  

Following the current insights of our Covid-19 task force, I believe we should anticipate both the status quo of protective distancing for the immediate future as well as the possibility that conditions may eventually become safer and therefore permit more in-person opportunities down the road.   

With this in mind, I am committed to work with our CBI staff and leadership to help us move forward in the following ways:

  • Maintain our feeling of community through services and study on Zoom, but also create safe, micro opportunities to gather in person as is possible.
  • Create and initiate conversations, both 1:1 and small groups, for members of our community to experience a greater feeling of connection.
  • Create ongoing learning opportunities for the community that provide us a sense of ongoing growth and learning.
  • Envision and plan for the re-opening of Gan Keshet when conditions make it safe to do so, and to plan enhanced educational and social opportunities for our youngest children in the interim.
  • Plan for expanded in-person learning for ALMA and educational/social gatherings when conditions allow.
  • Envision hybrid services and group learning, encompassing simultaneous robust in-person gathering as well as livestreaming, for when infection rates fall to create safer conditions.
  • Plan for both limited in-person work on Abundance Farm, as well as for the possibility of expanded in-person farm activities based on changing conditions.
  • Pursue ongoing tikkun olam/social justice work to rally our community around meaningful action as well as continue to develop relationships with groups seeking equity and social change.

These intentions are just the broadest outline of the work that I, along with the synagogue staff and leadership, intend to pursue in the coming months.  I am sure that I inadvertently neglected to mention an initiative that is important to you, or perhaps didn’t consider when writing this note.  With that in mind, if there is something you want, need, or even have the ability to help create, please be in touch with me, Rabbi Jacob or Emily Kieval.  Community is a collective partnership - we’re all in this together, especially now.

In the meantime, I wish you a Hanukkah that brings you - and the world - its beauty, joy, and hope, and I hope you will join us for our community lighting each night at 5:00 and Friday night at 4:00.

Chag Urim Sameach,

Wishing everyone a joyous Festival of Lights,


Rabbi Justin David


Mon, July 22 2024 16 Tammuz 5784