Daily Press (Sunday)

One of my grown-up Hanukkah wishes came true in Norfolk

- By Naomi Limor Sedek Guest columnist Naomi Limor Sedek of Virginia Beach is president and CEO of the Tidewater Jewish Foundation.

As Hanukkah’s lights fade, I reflect on a wish I didn’t know I had — a wish for hope and unity in my community. This year, as we lit our menorahs in Hampton Roads, the candles seemed to burn a little brighter, fueled by an unexpected outpouring of support and acceptance. Living in Hampton Roads, a region deeply rooted in military values, our Hanukkah celebratio­n was unique. With recent terrorist attacks in Israel and the rise of antisemiti­sm globally, our decision to participat­e in Norfolk’s Grand Illuminati­on Parade was mixed with fear and hope.

Current events in Israel and across the globe, cast a shadow, evoking our fear and apprehensi­on. As Jewish volunteers who willingly agreed to participat­e, we knew the importance of showing up and being seen and heard, especially when our very existence seemed to be questioned. But we feared our celebratio­n could be misconstru­ed as insensitiv­ity to the prevailing turmoil.

Yet, there was also a sense of hope. Hanukkah, after all, is about the victory of light over darkness. We, a small group of volunteers from diverse background­s, came together to walk with the Hanukkah float and share our menorah’s light in a public spectacle.

As we marched in the parade, surrounded by armed guards — a sobering reminder of the threats we face — I realized that this was more than a parade. It was a statement of our existence, rights and place in Hampton Roads. The presence of the guards, rather than being a symbol of fear, transforme­d into a testament to our community’s commitment to protect its diverse constituen­ts.

The response from the crowd was nothing short of welcoming. Echoing through the streets of downtown Norfolk were shouts of “Happy Hanukkah,” not from fellow Jews but from our neighbors, friends and strangers — a chorus of different voices unified in their support for us. This was the moment my Hanukkah wish materializ­ed — not just in the flickering of candles but in the warmth of acceptance and unity from those around us.

This experience was a powerful reminder that there can be light even in darkness. In our case, that light was the love and acceptance of the parade participan­ts and spectators. It was a vivid demonstrat­ion that our community stands united

in its diversity and strength, even amidst global unrest and local apprehensi­ons.

The parade was also a personal journey for me. I confronted my fears and apprehensi­ons and found them replaced with an overwhelmi­ng sense of pride and belonging. It was heartening to see that in Hampton Roads, amidst the challenges of being a minority, our voices were not just heard but celebrated.

As I walked alongside the Hanukkah float, my thoughts were with the hostages being held by Hamas. My ultimate Hanukkah wish was for their safe return. This reality casts a shadow over our celebratio­ns. Even as we felt the warmth and

acceptance of our local community in Hampton Roads, our efforts and prayers and my ultimate Hanukkah wish, still unfulfille­d, is that these individual­s will be reunited with their families. If not now … maybe Christmas.

The unity and support we experience­d in the parade are signs of hope in a world increasing­ly torn by divisions. They remind us that while we cannot control the actions of a few who are intent on spreading hate, we can create an environmen­t of mutual respect and understand­ing together.

As Hanukkah ends and we put away our menorahs, the light from this festival lingers in the form of these newfound

bonds and strengthen­ed community ties. My grown-up Hanukkah wish wasn’t for presents or miracles but for acceptance, understand­ing and unity. That wish came true in the streets of Norfolk, surrounded by my community.

In the end, the Festival of Lights lived up to its promise, not just in our homes but in the very streets of our city. It brought to life the enduring message of Hanukkah — in darkness, there is always a potential for light, and in fear, the possibilit­y of hope.

 ?? BILLY SCHUERMAN/STAFF ?? Thousands of pedestrian­s line the streets of downtown Norfolk during the Grand Illuminati­on parade in November.
BILLY SCHUERMAN/STAFF Thousands of pedestrian­s line the streets of downtown Norfolk during the Grand Illuminati­on parade in November.

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