Winter is the darkest time of the year, with the shortest days and the coldest nights. This year is no exception due to the isolation and loneliness felt by many during the holidays — usually a time of joy and celebration, a break from the darkness. Covid-19 has done a lot more damage than preventing families to congregate for the holidays, though. Cases are at an all-time high, with over 85 million cases reported worldwide. It is safe to say that society is in desperate need of a miracle. Luckily, on December 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for people above the age of 16. Additionally, just days later, on December 18, the FDA approved the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine (FDA).
The news of the emergency authorization could not have come at a more symbolic time than Hanukkah. On Hanukkah, Jewish people celebrate the miracle of the Maccabees defeating the Syrians. When the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple following this battle, they lit the Ner Tamid, also known as the Sanctuary Lamp, with one small jar of oil. Rather than the oil lasting for one day, their expectations were shattered as the oil lasted eight days (ReformJudaism.org).
The symbolism of the vaccine and the story of Hanukkah are almost homogenous. The small group of Maccabees defeated expectations and conquered the large army of Syrians. Against all odds, scientists were able to come together and create a vaccine, instilling hope in society that the expansive and deadly virus will finally be defeated. Similar to the story of the oil that lasted longer than expected, scientists quickly learned that each vial of the vaccine contained seven doses, rather than just the five they had planned for (NBC).
Even better, those leading the battle against the virus happen to be of Maccabee descent. Mikael Dolsten, head scientist of Pfizer, grew up in Sweden with his Jewish mother, who had escaped Austria at the beginning of World War II, and father. Additionally, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla is the son of Holocaust survivors, who were amongst the few to survive the Nazis in Greece. Tal Zaks, the Chief Medical Officer of Moderna, graduated from Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Furthermore, Drew Weissman greatly contributed to the pharmaceutical companies that have created a vaccine through his studies and research about how mRNA cells can create a vaccine. Weissman, also a Jew, is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. These Jewish scientists truly provided the best Hanukkah present any person could ask for (JTA.org).
In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Dolsten discussed the prominence of Jewish researchers and scientists. “There has been a strong Jewish tradition around contributing to humanity and a strong tradition within medicine,” he said. Hanukkah has always brought light to the darkest time of the year, and this year, the approval of the vaccine truly encompasses this spirit, bringing along hope for a bright future.