For too long our messages at Jewish holidays have been focused on issues other than the celebrations themselves.
Antisemitism has been on the rise in America and around the world for years now, and we and many others have been sounding the alarm repeatedly during that time.
Jews are in the midst of their eight-day Hanukkah celebration, which began Thursday night, but we certainly don’t blame anyone for feeling less than festive during this Festival of Lights.
There was trepidation among Jewish communities well before the horrific Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the events that followed.
Jewish houses of worship have been attacked, sometimes with deadly consequences. And in September during the High Holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, synagogues were on alert for potential disruptions in services due to bomb threats and false reports to law enforcement. Dozens of synagogues across the country were subjected to such hoaxes over the summer.
The tragedy of Oct. 7 took place on Simchat Torah, normally one of the most joyous Jewish holidays. Hamas terrorists chose that sacred date to engage in unspeakable acts of cruelty against innocents.
Jews around the world were shaken to their core as the one place on the globe where they felt sure that they can find refuge was viciously attacked, with people brutalized in their own homes and communities.
Yet even in the immediate wake of the attacks and well before Israel launched its invasion of Gaza, U.S. Jews heard fellow Americans viciously celebrating the terrorists’ violence and suggesting that the victims had it coming to them.
Since then Jewish individuals and their businesses, organizations and institutions have been singled out for harassment, vandalism and even violence. Some congregations have felt the need to hire private security for services and events.
This region is not immune. Just recently there were shocking national headlines regarding a group of protesters targeting a Jewish-owned Philadelphia restaurant for abuse.
We call on all people, regardless of their stance on the situation, to express their views in a peaceful, respectful manner. No matter how strong one’s feelings are, there is no excuse for engaging in intimidation, or worse, of anyone based on their identity, ethnicity or point of view. It does nothing but create a toxic atmosphere, and it certainly is unlikely to change anyone’s mind.
There is no sugarcoating the situation. Jews who for generations felt welcome and accepted in this country are in a state of alarm. Nevertheless, celebrations of Hanukkah go on, and rightly so. The festival has great relevance to these troubled times.
Hanukkah recalls how Jews in ancient times fought back against their persecutors. It celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees after a three-year rebellion against the Syrians in 170 BC. Jews rebelled because they had been prohibited from practicing their religion and were being forced to worship Greek gods.
The Syrians defiled the sacred Temple, calling for an altar to Zeus to be constructed there and for pigs to be slaughtered on the site in violation of Jewish law.
According to Jewish tradition, a small amount of oil miraculously lasted for eight days after the Temple was rededicated, enabling the sacred lamp there to remain lit until additional supplies were available. Because of this, Jews celebrate the holiday by lighting menorah candles each night and enjoying foods cooked with oil.
During Hanukkah, Jews express joy at their ancestors’ victory but make it clear that they understand the conflict itself was the result of the kind of persecution the Jewish people have endured for thousands of years.
Preventing that sort of oppression to flourish requires vigilance on the part of Jews and their allies in the larger community. That means engaging in acts of friendship and refusing to tolerate hateful acts or statements on the part of others.
Traditionally Jews place menorahs in their windows so the lights may be seen by passersby. Public menorah lightings are common as well. These practices remind us that Jews will not give in to fear or let others’ vitriol halt their celebration.
We should all be free to practice our faith in peace. May the Hanukkah candles help to bring lasting light and enlightenment to a world that badly needs it.
Source: Berkshire mont