Hanukkah celebrants stay connected, safe online - Albuquerque Journal

Hanukkah celebrants stay connected, safe online

A giant electric menorah outside the Jewish Community Center in Albuquerque will be lit each night during Hanukkah. That and related programs can be seen online. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is, at its heart, “a story about the fight, in time of darkness, to find the ability to hope,” said Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld of Albuquerque’s Congregation Albert.

The lesson is not lost on the Albuquerque Jewish community as the eight-day celebration of the holiday begins Thursday against a background of surging coronavirus deaths and state-imposed public health restrictions.

Celebrants are gathering in the safety of the online virtual world for daily events that recall the history of the holiday, which has its roots in a second century BCE uprising by Jews against their Syrian-Greek oppressors in Judea, Israel.

“The Syrian-Greeks controlled that part of the world, and according to their idea of Hellenism, they wanted to impose not only Greek culture, but also Greek religion on everybody,” Rosenfeld said.

The Jewish population resisted, and the Seleucid King Antiochus IV, not being as progressive and benevolent as his father, outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered Jews to worship Greek gods.

In 168 BCE, the king’s soldiers descended on Jerusalem, killed those who resisted and desecrated the Second Temple with an altar to Zeus and sacrifices of pigs.

An uprising led by Judah Maccabee (“the Hammer”) and his brothers drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem within a few years.

During cleansing the Second Temple, only one vial of uncontaminated holy oil with the high priest’s seal could be found. In rededicating the temple, the vial of oil that was supposed to burn for just one day continued to burn for eight days while more holy oil was being made.

The modern Hanukkah menorah has nine branches – eight to signify the eight days of the miracle of the oil and a ninth branch called the shamash, or helper candle, which is used to light the other candles.

“The Jews were faced with an army that was so much larger and a culture that was so much bigger, and yet they were able to find enough hope that they could not only survive, but thrive, and light was brought forth,” Rosenfeld said.

The story of Hanukkah resonates with not only Jewish people, said Rabbi Rob Lennick, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Mexico, which is coordinating many of the weeklong events.

“The message is also about pluralism and inclusion and having the freedom to express yourself and celebrate your faith, no matter your religious background,” Lennick said. “The word ‘Hanukkah’ means ‘dedication,’ and we should all be dedicated to preserving the collective and diverse freedoms of expression we enjoy across our country.”

Each of the local eight-day Hanukkah events will begin with the lighting of a large menorah in front of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque, before switching to programs from other participating institutions.

“The pandemic doesn’t prevent us from still wanting to celebrate together and have our holiday, so we are coming together as a Jewish community to have an event every night for the eight days of Hanukkah, show the diversity of our Jewish community, and shed a little light on one of the darkest Hanukkahs that I can remember,” said Shelly Prant, the Jewish Community Center’s CEO.

Watching Hanukkah from home

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