Back in May (2020), we caught up with Farhina Islam, to chat about how Covid-19 restrictions were impacting on Ramadan and Eid, a time when Muslim families typically would get together.
With Hanukkah starting after sundown this evening, we wondered what impact our current covid restrictions would have on the Jewish festival of lights.
One of our carers, Rosalind, was happy to share a little of her story, what Hanukkah is and how she and many others have adapted this year, to access religious holidays around covid restrictions.
I'm a carer to my husband, who has insulin dependent diabetes, sight and mobility difficulties, and had a heart attack a few years ago. We've been married for 19 years, after meeting in an online chat room! We met for a weekend, and a month later, I moved in! We're a great support to each other.
"Roy is my rock and I am his"
In fact, Roy was a huge support to me, when lockdown first started. He found peace through his love of photography, but I really struggled for the first few months, with sickness and anxiety. I came along to quite a few of Mobilise's virtual cuppas in the early days and I've now found an online exercise class, which I do every morning, and which has also helped me feel much better.
I'm thrilled to chat a bit about Chanukah (Hanukka), as it means so much to me and my family. And to share how we've managed to access our faith throughout the Covid-19 restrictions.
Up and down the country and around the world in Jewish homes Chanukah is celebrated within the immediate family unit. As it's celebrated within our close family unit, we're fortunate in that Covid-19 restrictions haven't had a huge impact on this particular holiday, but this wasn't the case for some of our other big Jewish celebrations.
One of our most holy events is Passover which takes place in April, just after we had gone into full lockdown (2020). It's a time for extended families to get together.
We also couldn’t do our usual celebrations for the Jewish New Year in September (2020), or our most holy of days, the Day of Atonement the week later.
These are very important events in the Jewish calendar. The focus is usually the synagogue, our place of worship, where we pray, meet extended family members and friends. There are usually special services for children and young families. And like many Jewish celebrations, the special days are topped off with a get together around a substantial meal!
"Sadly we were unable to get together with extended family and friends this year for any of these events, but we did make good use of Zoom and have made many new friends!"
My synagogue in Essex along with the synagogue in Liverpool, have done the Shabbat service each week on zoom and have also ran a study day on Sundays, where we discuss ongoing things like Antisemitism, festivals, intermarriage and religion, traditions, education, politics, Covid-19 and much more! I’ve joined in this from the start of lockdown and made many new friends on line and had lots of great discussions.
"It’s hard for all religions to feel part of something when you are not together but zoom has helped. Although you can't beat stopping on a Sunday after the discussions, for a lovely fresh smoked salmon bagel with cream cheese and a coffee all together, which has most definitely been missed."
This Friday we will all be on zoom to light our chunukah menorahs together, to hope that the light and prayers will make us feel as one.
It did feel really weird and sad, to not go to a synagogue during the pandemic, not being able to give hugs to family and friends. Jewish festivals, the gatherings make me feel connected to my religion so I hope that next year all religious festivals can go back to normal, so we all won’t feel so isolated from what we know and love to do.
I'm relieved that Covid-19 won't particularly impact Chanukah though and I'm looking forward to celebrating!
So what is Chanukah?
Chanukah, a more traditional way of saying Hanukkah, is always celebrated in December and lasts for eight days.
It’s a festival that Jewish people love as it’s a fun festival known as the festival of lights, as we light a menorah - an eight-branch candle holder.
We light a candle each night until we have all eight lit. The ninth candle is called the shamash and is the helper candle, that is first lit then used to light the number of candles required for that night of Chanukah.
So why Chanukah, and why a menorah?
A brief history!
Back in the 2nd century BCE the Jewish people reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem from the Greeks where they had desecrated the holy Jewish sites. So Judah Maccabee and his followers wanted to rededicate the temple.
In all temples at that time and in synagogues today we have an everlasting light to show that God is always with us. In those early days the everlasting light was lit with oil.
The temple elders were astonished to discover there was only enough oil to last one day and the nearest supplies were an eight day ride on horseback to get more.
The festival of Chanukah celebrates the miracle of the remaining one day of oil lasting for the eight days until Judah Maccabee returned with more.
Not only do we celebrate this miracle by lighting the menorah we also the give gifts for eight days and eat food that is fried in oil reflecting the oil used in the temple. This can include doughnuts or latkas, which you probably know as potato pancakes.
On each night after lighting the candles, families say blessings together, sing traditional Hebrew songs and give presents or money. In some cases, family traditions will have the children and grandchildren receiving additional gifts of chocolate money, it’s all good family fun.
The menorah is always lit at night as all Jewish festivals start at sundown. The candles only burn for about 30 minutes and Jewish houses throughout the word place the menorah in the window to show off the light and that they are thankful for the miracle.