Who Can Retell? Great Miracles Happen Here

Illustration by Steve Silbert

By Mark Frydenberg

This Chanukkah, Bayit: Building Jewish, gives us the gift of Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukkah. This work extends the creative liturgy prepared by the Bayit liturgy arts working group, which previously offered liturgy for Tisha B’av and Sukkot in the time of COVID. They provide new prayers for “building Jewish with meaning and heart” that speak to us, regardless of our Jewish identity, denominational affiliation or practice; regardless of whether we live in North Adams, Massachusetts or Los Angeles, California, or somewhere in between. They share the contemporary experience of navigating a world of masks and social distance, isolation and illness, divisiveness and difference and the gratitude for the modern miracles and miracle workers that help us make it through this pandemic moment.

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat invites us to offer the most humble personal prayer that resonates with all of us: “God, we’re all struggling to make it until spring. Help me make this house a place where hope keeps burning bright.” The true message of Chanukkah is, as Rabbi Mike Moskowitz writes, “the ability to see darkness and a call and an obligation to banish it with light.” Together, they call us to bring light into a world fighting a pandemic – through prayer, appreciation, and action.

Grounded in text and tradition, this uplifting collection offers new reflections, poems, and images to read, share, and contemplate before lighting the candles each night. They recognize the miracle of Chanukkah, and honor this year’s modern Maccabee miracle workers. As Trisha Arlin reminds us, they are the everyday heroes – the care givers, store clerks, teachers, volunteers, artists, healers, and civil servants who support individuals, communities, and programs around the world, along with everyone who “wore masks, washed their hands, kept their distance, stayed home.”

In Al HaNisim: Future Miracles Unfolding Now, Rabbi David Evan Markus thoughtfully adapts the familiar Hebrew prayer to tell the story of Chanukkah in 2020 from the point of view of someone in living thirty years in the future. Markus changes the familiar beginning of Bimei Mattityahu (In the days of Mattathias) to recognize the heroes of our day – Anthony Fauci, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Greta Thunberg and others – with whom “You, in your Great mercy stood with them in their time of distress. You fought their fights and judged their cause.” Markus adds to this the 21st Century value that they might “rededicate the world to pure and clean light and to the wisdom of truth forever.”

In the time of pandemic, this collaboration between liturgists, clergy and artists resonates with our senses and modern-day sensibilities. Steve Silbert’s illustrations visually convey the messages of light in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of despair; joy in the midst of uncertainty. In this Chanukkah collection, Rabbis Jenifer Singer and Dara Lithwick appeal to our senses: smelling the smoky oily oniony-ness of frying latkes; feeling the hot wax drip on our fingers when lighting candles; tasting a variety of latkes ‘splendid in diversity’, and hearing the sounds of spinning dreidels and the laughter of friends and family gathered together, and seeing the reflections of burning candles in the window.

Trisha Arlin’s poetry conveys our longing for hope and connectedness in the midst of the pandemic: “I buy an electric hanukiah for the window. It has small tasteful blue LED bulbs that are hard to see before the fifth night. Faint light in the winter darkness, but nevertheless they proclaim, A JEW LIVES HERE. And I imagine all the Jews all over the world, waiting for the sickness and the evil to pass, doing the same.”

Rabbi Jennifer Singer reflects on what it’s like to be the only Jewish family in town at this December holiday season. “Let’s be real,” Rachel Barenblat writes,” no one walks past my window in the small town night, so I post a photo too on Facebook, scattering holy sparks through every browser window proclaiming the miracle that we’re still here, that the light of our fierce hope still shines.”

The familiar Chanukkah song, Mi Y’malel, asks who can retell the miracles of Chanukkah, and the lyrics assure us, “In every age, a hero or sage came to our aid.” The Bayit liturgy arts working group came to our aid by providing us tools to cope with the challenges of Chanukkah for our time. These pluralistic poems, prayers and visualizations retell the miracles of our day at this season, bringing us closer to the hope that uv’yameinu kol am Yisrael yitacheid yakum v’yiga-el– in our own day, all Israel shall be united and redeemed.

Mark Frydenberg is a past chair of the National Havurah Committee, a creative liturgist, an editor of Siddur Chaveirim Kol Yisraeil and the L’chu N’ran’nah bencher. Mark is a member of the Bayit Sounding Board, and is currently the president of Temple Beth Israel in Waltham, MA.