By Janis Fontaine

It was a Hanukkah unlike any other.

The jubilant holiday of lights was dampened by COVID-19, but nothing could dowse the spirit of local leaders.

“Our message is light,” Rabbi Shmuel Biston said. “It only takes a small light to make a difference.”

Biston is co-director with his wife, Sari, of Chabad of East Delray. With support from the city of Delray Beach, the chabad lit the menorah at Old School Square for the previous decade.

In 2019, more than 1,000 people came out for the first night of the holiday. In 2020, Biston and Mayor Shelly Petrolia worked to come up with a safe way to hold the traditional public menorah lighting, but finally decided the risk to public health was too great.

On Dec. 10, the City Commission produced a virtual version of the Delray Beach 11th annual Hanukkah Menorah Lighting and posted it on the city’s Facebook page.

Biston told the Hanukkah story: When a poorly equipped group of Jewish rebels defeated an army of thousands of well-trained soldiers, the first thing the rebels wanted to do was light the menorah, an act that had been forbidden. But there was only one tiny jug of oil left unspoiled by the soldiers, oil that would last hours, maybe a day at most. They lit the menorah anyway, and the jug’s worth of oil lasted eight days.

The Hanukkah message was especially appropriate in 2020, Biston said, because “in times of darkness and in times of challenges, there is a new opportunity to discover what is inside of us and every single one of us has our own crucible of oil inside of us. All we have to do is find it. It takes just a little bit of light to dispel a ton of darkness.”

Hanukkah celebrates faith but it is also a social holiday — with the exchange of gifts and lots of food and fun. Last year cast a dark spell over that, like so much else.

Biston says not to lose heart. “2020 has been a year defined by differences,” he said. “But we have to have hope and we’re stronger together.”

In Judaism, one tenet says each person is a “guarantor” for his fellow man. A person has a responsibility to be “the most-healthy version of himself,” but he also has a responsibility for the health of those around him.

But you don’t have to go out and cure cancer. Just wear a mask, or social distance, or stay home.

“Everyone has to do their part,” Biston said. “Any little positive thing you do helps. You don’t have to hit a home run.”

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