Herschell Ostripeller was feeling low. He had always loved Hanukkah but this year was different. He was in home isolation because of Covid-19 and as a result he would be lighting his menorah without anybody else around.
The eight days of Hanukkah were always a special time in Herschell’s life. He basked in the warmth of the candles burning brightly. He sat back and thought about the Hanukkah story. He could draw parallels with today’s world. Hanukkah was about not giving up your identity to please others and holding strong to your beliefs. It was about not willing to conform or to compromise when it came to pressure and most importantly being proud of who you were.
The story of Hanukkah was more than finding oil which burned brightly for eight days, it was about keeping the internal fires of justice and freedom burning bright with no dilution.
Hanukkah was a much deeper holiday than it looked on the surface, but it was also a time for family. Now with Covid-19 everywhere, there was no gatherings in person. It was nice to use Zoom to keep in touch, but that didn’t provide the sensory overload of things like freshly made latkes or opening gifts together.
Since he was a little boy, Herschell had always made sure his Nieces and Nephews received eight gifts each so they could open up a present every day of Hanukkah. He loved spending at least one evening with each of them and watching their faces as they discovered a new toy he had bought them.
When he was a little boy, his friends in school who weren’t Jewish always wanted to become Jewish on Hanukkah to get the gifts. When you’re a little kid, eight straight days of presents was Nirvana.
Now Herschell looked at his lonely Menorah and felt a twinge of sadness instead of the normal happiness. His favourite holiday had become a lonely one.
After going to Spotify and putting on some songs by the Maccabeats about Hanukkah and one by Matisyahu he looked outside and saw that darkness was descending. He took out his siddur and got ready to light the first candle. Herschell was disappointed because he thought maybe one of his Nieces or Nephews or Great Nieces and Nephews would have called to wish him a Happy Hanukkah. He then started feeling bad, maybe he should have called them. Just like Passover they could have had a Zoom Hannukah, but now it was too late.
Just as Herschell put on his yarmulke and was about to start, he thought about when he was a kid and how special it was to light the menorah with his parents and brother and sister.
He took a deep breath, lit the middle candle or Shammes and heard a noise outside his front window. He walked over to take a look and could feel tears involuntarily falling down his cheek.
There was his oldest nephew Max with his other nephew Carl erecting a seven foot Menorah on his front lawn. His niece Jeannette was holding a sheet of bristol board with a message on it.
‘Dear Uncle, This is our Hanukkah gift for you. We will each be coming by to light this menorah every night. We will bring our kids and you can watch from the safety of the house. Thank You for the presents this year and every year. We love you and we just wanted to help share the light and love we feel for you.’’
After the menorah was up, Carl waved and left as Max and Jeannette and their two year old son Joe lit the first candle. The light was brilliant but it somehow hit Herschell’s soul more than anything else. It made him feel beyond elated.
Max called Herschell’s phone and the family sang Ma Otzur together. Herschell looked at Joe’s red cheeks and he felt complete happiness.
After waiting a couple of minutes to watch the candles burn, the family waved goodbye to their Uncle and off they went. Herschell couldn’t remember when he felt happier. The menorah was beautiful. On the eighth night the candles burned brighter than any candles he had ever seen in his life. They illuminated his house and his life
Every night the family showed up and Herschell started leaving hot chocolate on porch for them. It was the fastest eight nights that Herschell could ever remember and everyday he couldn’t wait for the stars to come out.
Many people walked by the Menorah and Herschell noticed that when they did, a huge smile would come across their face.
After Hanukkah was over, Herschell felt contented and relaxed and genuinely happy. It had been one of the most surreal yet satisfying experiences of his life. He LOVED his family with his heart and soul and their gesture proved that they felt the same way about him.
His family had given him the greatest Hanukkah gift that anyone could ever ask for and he would Never ever forget it. Hanukkah during the time of Covid had been beyond his wildest expectations, who would have ever believed it was possible. Life was good.