By Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch / Temple Anshe Amunim
In just a few weeks, we will celebrate Chanukah in our congregations and our homes. It is a joyous holiday for so many - a time for gathering with family and friends, for bringing warmth and light to our winter season. Perhaps it’s a favorite latke recipe, a menorah passed down from generation to generation, or a family dreidel game-night tradition that makes this holiday special for you.
Chanukah literally means ‘dedication’ or ‘inauguration’ and is often understood as ‘rededication,’ recalling the story and lore around the return to the holy Temple in Jerusalem. I have always connected with that idea of rededication. This Chanukah, I invite us to consider how we can practice rededication - for our communities, our homes, and ourselves.
This year, at my synagogue, Temple Anshe Amunim, we are rededicating ourselves to communal gathering in earnest, after so many compromises and less-than-ideal alternatives during the course of the COVID pandemic. Each community is on its own path and journey regarding health and safety; all of us are able to gather more fully this year than in recent years past. Chanukah will truly be a rededication for so many in the Berkshires and beyond, as we reconnect with our communities. I hope many of you will spend Chanukah in person in some way with a Jewish community this year – lighting the menorah, sharing a meal, singing and being together. We delight in our return to community engagement and involvement. While virtual options enable us to remain in touch and keep our traditions alive, in-person celebrations create those lasting moments of connection and joy. This Chanukah, this year, let us rededicate ourselves to our Jewish communities.
This winter, I will have the opportunity to officiate at an especially sweet ritual for members of my community - a chanukat habayit, the dedication of a new house. We will hang a mezuzah on the doorposts, embracing the commandments and blessing contained within its scroll, signifying that this is a Jewish home. For so many of us, our homes took on a new level of sanctity during the pandemic. We made our homes our own mikdash me’at – a small kind of synagogue or sanctuary. We observed holidays at home, either with immediate family, a small group of friends, or by tuning in our television sets and computer screens to services near and far. Each week on Friday nights, as we reach L’cha Dodi, the prayer in which we invite in the Sabbath bride, I acknowledge that we welcome the presence of Shabbat into our Temple’s sanctuary, but also, for all those joining our services virtually, into each of our homes. While we rejoice in gathering together in our communal spaces, we have also elevated the sacred activities of our homes, perhaps connecting with the practice of lighting Shabbat candles each week, making challah, or cooking an elaborate Chanukah dinner. Judaism lives both in our synagogues and in our homes. This Chanukah, this year, let us rededicate ourselves to our Jewish home practices and rituals.
It is only natural for our minds to turn toward the close of the year 2022, as our lives integrate both the Jewish and secular calendars. Looking toward 2023 and a new year, many of us make resolutions and commitments. We set goals and wishes, hopes and dreams. Many of these are personal practices we would like to take on - getting in a walk every day, even in the winter; reading a certain number of books; making progress in our personal or professional lives. Looking toward a new year, may we rededicate ourselves to personal exploration and spiritual growth, toward a year of health and happiness, loving homes, and vibrant communities.
Rabbi Liz P.G. Hirsch is the spiritual leader of Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield.