By Benita Matofska
Chanukkah 2020: like other religious holidays, the Jewish Festival of Lights just won’t be the same this year. Thanks to the constraints of Covid, the annual eight-day festivity starting on December 10th will have to celebrate freedom from oppression in a more restrained way. The story of Chanukkah dates back to 167 BCE, when the Jews of Judea rose up against the oppressive anti-Semitic regime of Emperor, King Antiochus IV. The rebels led by Judah the Maccabee and his followers, recaptured the vandalised Temple in Jerusalem, cleansed it and re-lit the M’norah, the eight-arm candelabra. My favoured part of this story as a child, was that amidst the destruction, the Maccabees found a one-day supply of Temple oil which went on to burn for eight days. Known as the ‘miracle of Chanukkah’, this is a story of hope, a journey from oppression to freedom. In 2020, the word ‘freedom’ has taken on a new meaning. With lockdowns and restrictions in place, the social activities and community gatherings we usually take for granted have disappeared, replaced instead with Zoom calls and socially distant walks in the park or along the seafront.
Chanukkah has long been one of my favourite festivals. Each year, ten or more families descend on our house bringing their M’norahs to light. My daughter Maia and I make latkes and donuts (foods fried in oil) and we celebrate together as a community. Chanukkah isn’t about mass consumption, we do give small gifts and play ‘dreidl’ a spinning top game where you can ‘win’ chocolate coins, but it’s more about bringing light and hope, appreciating what we have and remembering that together we can overcome oppression. In a year that has seen Black Lives Matter protests and an increasing awareness that we need to come together to challenge racism, prejudice and tackle the pressing climate crisis, the Chanukkah message couldn’t be more apt.
Amidst the pandemic, 2020 has shown us how economic, political and mass social action can have an impact. Cleaner global air, a lowering of emissions, reduced disturbance of wildlife, all demonstrate what can happen when we change our behaviour; bringing hope to the notion that by taking action for the planet, we can positively impact the threat of climate change. As a council member of the Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue, I steer our work on the environment. Recently, we have joined the Eco Synagogue movement, in our quest to bring together a caring, sharing community to help protect and preserve the planet. On December 9th, the night before Chanukkah, I’ll be co-hosting our first Eco Synagogue online event, along with Claire Bessel. The Great Green Skills Share will take place on Zoom from 7-8.30pm and will provide a chance to share sustainability skills, hear from speakers in the community and map the green talents on our doorstep.
Channukah is about bringing the hope, to play our part in creating a better future for us all. Let’s take the opportunity to bring some light in lockdown. This year, we all need some of that.
Benita Matofska is a speaker, changemaker and author ofGeneration Share, a book showcasing inspiring stories of changemakers building a more caring, sharing society. You can find out more about Eco Synagogue or sign up for The Great Green Skills Share on Eventbrite or email firstname.lastname@example.org