My husband and I were speaking with old friends last night, updating each other on how things are going. There was a lot of exhaustion, some despair, some anger, and a bit of throwing up our hands. I realized partway through our conversation that this isn’t just us: it’s a lot of people. I might even call it atmospheric – it’s all around us.
In Adam Sternbergh’s recent New York Times article The Year We Lost It, he talks about how in year three of a worldwide pandemic, we’ve gone through the “We’re all in it together” phase and the “hot vax summer” phase of hope that never really panned out, and now we’re just… struggling.
At first, we were too busy being in an emergency to feel our feelings, and as things got better, we wanted to just push through. As each new variant seems to make whatever vaccine we just got obsolete, it feels like there is no relief in sight, no final moment when we can say, “It’s over! We can finally go back to the way things were!” At some point, however, we do need to recognize that we’ve been through trauma and take stock of – each of us our own version.
In the Chanukah story, Antiochus waged a campaign to stamp out Judaism and desecrated the holy Temple in Jerusalem, putting in idols and sacrificing pigs on the altar. The Maccabees, a small band of guerilla fighters, against all odds, conquered Antiochus’ mighty Seleucid army and fought their way back to the Temple. There, they cleared out the idols and rededicated the Temple to God.
We talk a lot about the rekindling of the menorah and the miracle of the oil that is described in the Talmud, but I want to focus us back on the act of rededication. Our psyches, our hearts, are full of a lot of hard times, maybe even growing cynicism – that part of us that, for example, just assumes our plans this weekend will be canceled by the tripledemic anyway, so there’s no point in trying. Our inner temples are strewn with canceled camps, jobs lost, weeks-long respiratory issues, mystery fevers, lockdowns, deaths of loved ones, dark nights, and darker days.
I’m wondering what it might look like to rededicate ourselves. What is here that I’ve collected during this pandemic time that’s getting in the way of my being my highest, holiest, most light-filled self? What might be a way to clear it out and make room for some joy, hope, new memories? How can I rededicate myself to the joys of right now, even if they aren’t the way things used to be?
As I light candles tonight, I’m going to be thinking about what I want to leave behind and what I want to rededicate myself to. Committing to hope in the face of despair can feel risky. But isn’t that what the Maccabees taught us?
Rabbi Julia Appel is Clal’s Senior Director of Innovation, helping Jewish professionals and lay leaders revitalize their communities by serving their people better. She is passionate about creating Jewish community that meets the challenges of the 21st century – in which Jewish identity is a choice, not an obligation. Her writing has been featured in such publications as The Forward, The Globe and Mail, and The Canadian Jewish News, among others.