SACRAMENTO — The celebration of Hanukkah begins for the Jewish people. However, amid an ongoing war in Gaza, it feels different for many in the Sacramento area.
This holiday, one of many that represents the resilience of the Jewish people, is deeply felt by those affected by the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas – those who have friends, cousins and even children abroad.
Congregation B'nai Israel Rabbi Mona Alfi has been working on her sermon for Hanukkah.
"To be able to celebrate, to be able to really plan for Hanukkah, it feels like a luxury," Rabbi Alfi said.
As a Jewish woman of faith, it's been a tough holiday for the rabbi. As a mother, it's been even harder.
"We have a lot of family there. Our roots go deep in Israel and he wasn't gonna leave it when it was in need," Rabbi Alfi said of her son.
Her 20-year-old son is studying in Tel Aviv, and despite his mother's objections, he is staying there.
"As a mother, I very much miss the days where I could pick up my child and put him where I want to put him," Rabbi Alfi said.
Through an app on her phone, she would get pings any time a Hamas rocket went off – sometimes multiple times a day – and would feel her heart race.
"I would check immediately to see where is my son," she said. "If he's at school, I feel fine because there's a bomb shelter, a safe room, on his floor. I know 90 seconds is enough time for him to get to the shelter."
Discussions around the war and Judaism have become increasingly charged nationwide.
"It's not about anti-Israeli government," the rabbi said. "It often gets reduced very quickly to antisemitic language. When you say 'the Jews,' that's not having a problem with the Israeli government or policy."
But for Rabbi Alfi, it's a reminder of her people's resilience.
"It's our stories of our past that give us strength in difficult times," she said. "It's something that fuels us, that reminds us that we come from a people that are proud of being Jewish."
This Hanukkah, Rabbi Alfi will make sure her son is not celebrating alone.
"My husband's also going to go out and spend the holiday with him so he's not there by himself," she said. "We will continue to gather as communities, as families, and, god willing, we'll have a reason to stop having holidays like this at some point."
for more features.