As we wrap up 2020, with great relief and optimism, the one thing we know for sure is that Rod Serling, Martin Scorsese, Aaron Sorkin, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk or even Quentin Tarantino could not have penned the year we have so painfully experienced. I believe we all had high hopes for 2020. It sounded so futuristic, so modern, so cutting edge, as though maybe man could go beyond the moon or finally find a cure for cancer. And all with the  anticipation for better days ahead for America.

But our vision came crashing down on us in March when we were ordered to stay-put in our homes. Only in our dreams could we have imagined what possibilities could have been on the horizon, with the farthest our perceptions could take us were via a computer or TV screen. Suddenly, there was no sunshine, regardless of the outside temperatures. Our days were clouded with fear, and for some, darkened with smoke from fires, along with news that people we knew were sick with the virus, or worse, passed away. The unknown took hold and just going to the grocery store or pharmacy seemed like a death sentence. Many of us stayed away from those essential outings, doing orders/deliveries online or letting our kids be our delivery people. None of the choices were the best, but we’ve had few options for nine months.

Who would’ve thought that would be the reality and legacy for 2020?

As Chanukah approaches, with no Chanukah festivities to look forward to, with no anticipation of tasting and sharing latkes with our grandkids or having the in-person joy of watching them open colourfully wrapped Chanukah gifts, my mind wandered as to what kinds of gifts we’ve gleaned this year. I do believe many of us feel that just being healthy, making good decisions to stay out-of-harms-way and seeing that our kids, grandkids and extended family and friends are virus-free is the biggest gift we could appreciate in 2020. Nothing is more important than our health and the safety and well-being of the ones we love.

So, as one who always hears a voice in my head say: Enquiring minds want to know…, I set out to ask folks, Is there anything you learned about yourself during the pandemic that turns out to be a gift to yourself?

 As we kindle our shamash and eight candles on our menorahs this 2020 Chanukah season, I’d like to share eight answers from dear ones who shared their personal insights as to what their take-ways are from this most unusual year. And in the words of the creator of the late 1950s TV show the Twilight Zone, Rod Serling, who was born Jewish: “here is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man…a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination.

 I believe we have lived beyond the fifth dimension during 2020 because the best of all who have extraordinary imaginations, the most prolific novelists and the top Hollywood/Broadway creators could not have written 2020 as we have lived it.

Insightful personal gifts from the 2020 experience: (Ages vary from 14-74):

Candle #1. Having so much free time has made me dig into my past and question why I feel the need to be with family and friends as much as I do. I’ve had to ask myself why I need to be surrounded by people all the time.

Candle #2. I learned that I can be happy at home for endless hours while not just recovering from surgery or injury. In the past, that’s the only time I was housebound.

Candle #3. I‘ve learned to have more tolerance and patience on a global level.

Candle #4. I am not comfortable being by myself for long periods of time. But I never had to until now. I don’t see this as a gift but as a weakness. I have to try and work harder on this.

Candle #5. Working from home is something I never thought I could do. I don’t mind it at all.

Candle #6. I think the most obvious for me is related to my change in diet/lifestyle. Since the pandemic I’ve gone vegan. It’s better for my health and the planet. I believe the self-knowledge is the awareness that led me to this decision and the ability to stick with it.

Candle #7. “I’ve learned to rely on myself more. And my values about family, love and safety have become much more prevalent.

Candle #8. “I have learned my home is a blessing and spending 24/7 with my family is much more fun than I ever imagined. I also am aware that I will never let hardships define me.

Candle #9 are my personal insights: I have been living alone for many years but the past nine months have been REALLY LIVING ALONE! It took many months to not cry everyday while yearning for the hugs, smiles and in-person laughter from my kids and grandkids. Within time, Facetime and ZOOM communication became a blessing.

I learned that I was handier around the house than I thought; screwdrivers and hammers are now inside the house and not stored out-of-sight. And Will-Hold glue is in the medicine cabinet.

I am so grateful for my inner creativity because without writing and working to create a new online business every single day, snickerdoodle cookies and potato chips would have been my go-to companions. A daily walk is as important as drinking water.

But most importantly, my best gifts are my children and grandchildren and how they have sustained me with constant, numerous and overwhelming amounts of phone calls per day, sharing their work days, school work, political and global views. It’s been a joy to have political discussions with my teen-age grandkids that often went on longer than they would have normally because we’ve had so much time to spare! It’s heartwarming to hear their passion about how the world could be better and how they hope to find a place for themselves by contributing in ways they hadn’t thought of pre-pandemic. It’s all been a different, and enlightening, kind of hanging-out!

May we find new blessings of joy in lighting our Chanukah candles this year and let’s all pray for bright lights of health and well-being in 2021. Happy Chanukah!…Sandy

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Sandra Taradash
As a Baby Boomer Bubbe who still feels 18 but has four grand kids to prove this is the 21st Century, Sandra writes to leave a legacy for the next generations. Her belief that these precious kids need to know their cultural and family's past in order for them to live their best future is all the muse she needs. She has a Master's Degree in Psychology and Cross Cultural studies, has written a family history, personal memoir, has completed her first novel and is working on her second. She spent some of her best times as a national board member to Women of Reform Judaism and president of her Temple's chapter. She also worked for The J, the Jewish newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Area. Her Bubbe's journey to America from Russia, with a life of too many losses, is her source for her deep belief and love for Judaism and family. Sandra is proudly Californian born and bred. These days, when Sandra is not writing or spending time with her three children and grandchildren, she is a Home Chef for local families who don't have time to cook healthy, fresh meals. She creates weekly menus for the families to choose from, provides their ingredient list and then goes to the client's home and cooks the various dishes! Stories and food---SO Jewish!

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