As Hanukkah ends, rabbi focuses on the power of light in a dark year

A drive-through menorah lighting event.
A small group of people attend a drive-through menorah lighting event in Northfield, Minn., on Thursday, the last night of Hanukkah.
Courtesy of Shloime Greene

Eight months ago, Rabbi Shloime Greene was delivering Seder-to-go kits to families celebrating Passover just as the pandemic was spreading across Minnesota.

Now Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday marking the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem, is coming to a close, and Greene said it’s been a poignant, timely reminder about light and dark — and overcoming incredible odds.

This year, because of COVID-19, he knew the nightly menorah lighting, across the holiday’s eight days, would have to change from a typically social affair.

So Greene, who is the regional coordinator at Chabad of southern Minnesota, organized drive-through menorah lightings in Rochester, Mankato and Northfield.

The first 25 cars received a Hanukkah-to-go gift bag.

"You have your menorah, your doughnut and your latke and some songs and a dreidel,” he said. “We've been trying to be resourceful for people that that may need a little extra assistance."

Holidays aside, Greene said, the pandemic has dramatically changed his work as a rabbi.

"As someone that essentially makes a living by interacting with people, it has put me in a position that to be much more flexible, and be much more open-minded about how to stay connected with people," he said.

Hanukkah this year, especially, may be a lonely time for people who are separated from their family. That’s why, he said, it's important to create opportunities for people to experience familiar holiday traditions in a safe way — and maybe take some of the edge off of that loneliness.

In a year of darkness, he said, the lights of the menorah take on even greater significance.

"It takes a lot of effort to focus on positivity and to focus on finding our way out and to focus on the light of it,” he said. “And I think that's an important part of this year's Hanukkah experience."


Looking back, looking ahead As 2020 comes to a close, several MPR News reporters have been checking back in with people they met earlier in the pandemic — about how their lives have changed, and about what they're hopeful for in the new year.


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