Hanukkah’s cel­e­bra­tory light dis­pels dark­ness

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Rob Ryser and Barry Lyt­ton

STAM­FORD — Saul Co­hen and Jewish Fam­ily Ser­vice of­fi­cials had a hard de­ci­sion to make last month, a de­ci­sion sim­i­lar to the one Jewish fam­i­lies are mulling for the first time in re­cent his­tory as Hanukkah ap­proaches — whether to hide in fear, or stand up and be seen.

The cel­e­bra­tory eight-day fes­ti­val of lights, sym­bol­ized by the can­dles of the meno­rah,

ar­rives Sun­day night amid a dark­en­ing cli­mate of an­tiSemitism in Amer­ica. Jewish fam­i­lies often put their meno­rahs in the win­dow to show­case their faith. Fam­i­lies often feel the spir­i­tual need to be con­spic­u­ous about a Jewish tra­di­tion such as Hanukkah, which calls for cel­e­bra­tions to be pub­lic.

Let the de­ci­sion made around a free rab­bini­cal lec­ture named for Co­hen held Nov. 8 at the Fer­gu­son Li­brary be your guide. The morn­ing of the lec­ture, a large swastika was dis­cov­ered out­side the li­brary, along with the words “good luck.” The dis­cov­ery sent spon­sors pon­der­ing whether to can­cel the event or pub­li­cize what they found. What if at­ten­dees would feel un­safe?

They didn’t can­cel. The speech, fea­tur­ing Rabbi Sh­muly Yan­klowitz, was given to a larger-than-nor­mal crowd of 250 peo­ple, Co­hen said. Co­hen said he will proudly dis­play his meno­rah and hopes all oth­ers do.

“I’m ab­horred that peo­ple might feel they need to” hide their re­li­gion, he said. “We don’t hide. We have to stand out.”

“No ques­tion in my mind, the To­rah says we should be a light to our na­tion, not keep it to our­selves.”

For lo­cal lead­ers in the Jewish com­mu­nity, Hanukkah couldn’t come at a bet­ter time.

“There’s no ques­tion that we’re putting our meno­rahs out,” says Rabbi Ita Paskind of Nor­walk’s Con­gre­ga­tion Beth El. “In fact, we are dou­bling down be­ing out and proud about putting our re­li­gion on dis­play.”

At the same time, there is no deny­ing that some fam­i­lies are be­ing pulled in op­pos­ing di­rec­tions this hol­i­day sea­son, five weeks since the dead­li­est at­tack on the Jewish com­mu­nity in Amer­i­can his­tory at a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue.

On the one hand, some fam­i­lies feel the prac­ti­cal need to be cir­cum­spect and con­sci­en­tious about safety, with anti-Semitic hate crimes on the rise.

On the other hand, fam­i­lies feel the spir­i­tual need to be con­spic­u­ous about a Jewish tra­di­tion such as Hanukkah, which calls for cel­e­bra­tions to be pub­lic.

“I have been get­ting a lot of calls from peo­ple who are wor­ried, ask­ing ‘Is there a dan­ger?’” says Andy Fried­land, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of the Con­necti­cut chap­ter of the Anti-Defama­tion League. “But there is some­thing to be said about say­ing ‘We won’t go into hid­ing, and we will be proud of who we are.’”

At stake is how free fam­i­lies feel they can be at a time in Amer­ica when more peo­ple are be­ing tar­geted for liv­ing their lives as them­selves.

The slay­ing of 11 peo­ple and wound­ing of seven oth­ers at the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue in Oc­to­ber by a gun­man who told po­lice “All these Jews need to die,” punc­tu­ated an alarm­ing set of re­cent stat­ics about the rise of hate crimes in Amer­ica.

An an­nual FBI re­port in Novem­ber showed a 37 per­cent spike in crimes against Jews and Jewish in­sti­tu­tions in 2017, as part of an over­all 17 per­cent jump in hate crimes, for ex­am­ple.

The ADL fol­lowed that re­port with a study doc­u­ment­ing a rise in anti-im­mi­grant ex­trem­ism in Amer­ica over the last decade, and a cor­re­lat­ing rise in anti-Semitism.

Lo­cally, swastikas have caused con­ster­na­tion in Wil­ton and Ridge­field. And in Woodbridge, ed­u­ca­tors are crack­ing down on what Jewish stu­dents called a cli­mate of anti-Semitism at Amity High School.

Hol­i­day of de­fi­ance

As a hol­i­day, Hanukkah is not as im­por­tant on the Jewish cal­en­dar as the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kip­pur. And on the pop­u­lar cul­ture level, Hanukkah is usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with the drei­del spin­ning toy, or tra­di­tional treats such as potato pan­cakes and jelly dough­nuts.

But the hol­i­day is rooted in deeper tra­di­tions of re­silience and de­liv­er­ance. It dates 2,000 years ago, when Jewish pa­tri­ots lib­er­ated the tem­ple in Jerusalem from op­pres­sors, and a meno­rah stayed lit for eight days on only one day’s sup­ply of oil.

“Hanukkah is all about light: we kin­dle the light of the meno­rah be­cause a lit­tle bit of light can dis­pel a lot of dark­ness,” said Rabbi Sh­lame Landa, of Chabad of Fair­field. “Of course, we have to take all safety pre­cau­tions and take se­cu­rity se­ri­ously, but at the same time we can­not go into hid­ing – it is es­pe­cially im­por­tant for young peo­ple to see this.”

Chabad of Fair­field is among the scores of Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions and houses of wor­ship here, across the United States and in 100 coun­tries through­out the world that will host pub­lic Hanukkah events, start­ing at sun­down on Sun­day.

At Chabad Lubav­itch of Green­wich, Rabbi Yossi Deren agreed that the pub­lic meno­rah light­ing di­men­sion of the hol­i­day was im­por­tant to pre­serve, not­ing that be­fore a move­ment to el­e­vate Hanukkah’s pro­file in the 1970s the 1980s, it was lit­tle known.

“What hap­pened was ev­ery Jewish man, woman and child could look up in their city or their small town and see the shin­ing light of the meno­rah bright­en­ing the dark win­ter night, lit­er­ally,” Deren said. “Fig­u­ra­tively, what that did was spread the mes­sage of Hanukkah about the power of light to dis­pel the dark­ness.”

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Con­nect­fi­cut Me­dia

Chabad of Fair­field’s Rabbi Sh­lame Landa at­taches an oil lamp to a meno­rah built of Le­gos for Hanukkah, which be­gins at sun­set Sun­day.

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

A meno­rah built en­tirely out of Le­gos is on dis­play at Chabad of Fair­field in prepa­ra­tion to cel­e­brate Hanukkah in Fair­field on Fri­day. The Lego meno­rah will be lit on Sun­day as part of the Hanukkah cel­e­bra­tion in down­town Fair­field.

Chabad of Fair­field's Rabbi Sh­lame Landa places a mag­netic meno­rah atop his ve­hi­cle in prepa­ra­tion to cel­e­brate Hanukkah on Fri­day.

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