Marsha Elowsky, with a wood carving depicting her late husband,...

Marsha Elowsky, with a wood carving depicting her late husband, Joseph, who died in March of COVID-19. She will mark Hanukkah without her husband of nearly 64 years for the first time when it begins Thursday. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

On the first night of Hanukkah Thursday, Plainview resident Marsha Elowsky will light the menorah for the first time without her husband, Joseph.

But on a kitchen island near the nine-branched candelabrum will lie a wood plaque depicting his face. Joseph Elowsky, 85, died in March of the coronavirus and a few months later, a friend of the couple made the plaque from a photo of him wearing a gentle smile.

"So when I light the candles, Joe would be there," said Marsha Elowsky, 84, who was married to her husband for nearly 64 years. "There’s a prayer that we say when we light the candles. I will keep the tissues near me."

As Long Islanders face a surge in coronavirus cases, many families like Elowsky’s are preparing to celebrate the eight-day Jewish holiday with a renewed sense of loss but also an appreciation for Hanukkah's ancient symbolism.

"For many people, it’s been a dark year. Hanukkah represents the victory of light over darkness," said Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island, which has planned a number of events to mark the holiday. "As a result, we want to bring as much light as we can, more this year than ever before."

Rabbi Hillel Fox, director of spiritual services at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, said that for many, the pandemic conjures up painful memories Hanukkah can sooth.

"During the surge that we are now experiencing, people can have these flashbacks of dire times," Fox said. "[But there’s] that expression: The light at the end of the tunnel. … It’s a message of hope to rebuild and to overcome the tendency to give up."

In the home of Michelle Golden in Roslyn, there will be plenty of light on the final night of Hanukkah, known as the "Festival of Lights." In Golden’s household of five, everyone has their own menorah. Each night, one candle is lit on all five.

"On the first night, it’s dim," said Golden, a mother of three. "But when you get to the eighth night, and you have five menorahs with all those candles, it’s very bright and it’s beautiful."

If it’s not too cold, Golden said, she plans to see her extended family over the weekend but they will gather outdoors. Otherwise, Golden said, she plans to deliver Hanukkah gifts to relatives. Either way, this year leaves her disappointed she won't be celebrating the tradition in a traditional way.

She doesn’t let that feeling linger.

"The holiday itself is an optimistic holiday," said Golden, president of Temple Sinai of Roslyn. "This has been a hard year, but we are coming to the end. And it’s going to get better. I don’t know when we will be able to celebrate. But I know we will."

For Judith Schwager, of Floral Park, her holiday plans are unsettled.

In the past, she spent Hanukkah with her husband, Arthur Schwager, a longtime Huntington physician who died of natural causes in June, and other family members. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, nothing concrete is planned this year.

"I’ve lost my best friend. We had been married for 64 years. It’s lonesome," Schwager said. "But I think that everybody has had something terrible this year. We just have to concentrate on the positive."

Since her husband’s death, every major holiday or anniversary has been difficult, she said. Grief comes in waves. It strikes the hardest when she’s alone.

Schwager said she tries to find joy in the small moments and is thankful for her health and a supportive family.

"If you can’t have all the cousins, aunts and uncles together, at least you can have your close family," she said. "We just have to have hope that 2021 will be better."

After all, Schwager added: "There’s a time to grieve, and there’s a time to have joy."

What to do for Thursday's start of Hanukkah

  • A drive-in menorah lighting and concert is planned for 5 p.m. at North Hempstead Beach Park, 175 West Shore Rd. in Port Washington.
  • A Grand Menorah Lighting is planned for 6 p.m. at the Merrick Long Island Rail Road station. At 6:15 p.m., a Great Menorah Car Parade will leave from the LIRR station.
  • A Grand Menorah Car Parade and Annual Menorah Lighting is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. at Chabad of Mid-Suffolk, 318 Veterans Memorial Hwy. in Commack.

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