Hello, it’s time to fight hate
What’s an atheist goy to do this holiday season, when hate and fear are sucking the oxygen out of certain dangerous people’s brains, and they are acting accordingly?
Well, yeah, I just came back from a little menorah shopping, as Sunday sunset will commence Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, in commemoration of a miracle. It’s time for people who respect the rights and freedoms of others to take notice and expand our circle of support, even as anti-Semites and haters of The Other feel so unfettered to express their unacceptable prejudices.
I’m thinking right now of the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The stream of hate and violence, provoked and abetted by the gun culture, seems never-ending.
First-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School; gays in an Orlando nightclub; African Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina, church; country music fans in Las Vegas. Can’t these murder-suicide people get the order right, for once, shoot themselves first, and do us a favor? All this acting out is because of their self-hatred, so why not keep the violence at home, within?
It’s the haters I hate, and since courtesy and respect has gone off the rails in Washington over the last couple years, we have to fight back. The oh-so-dangerous “caravan” of Central Americans seeking asylum was a convenient political tool around the election. Now, we’re a country that tear-gases women and children who are trying to escape violence.
“Build a wall.” Give me a break. The United States should be so much better and it’s up to right-thinking individuals to pitch in. Are you up to it? It doesn’t take much. A gesture. A “good morning” to a stranger on the street might be the nicest thing someone hears all day. So yeah, I’m buying a menorah.
Granted, the Christmas Tree Shops might not have been the best-advised spot for me to seek an electric candelabra to ignite one light per night starting at sunset Sunday, for eight consecutive nights. Yeah, the Christmas Tree Shops did not have a great representation of the Maccabees’ sacred lamp — the menorah — which had barely enough oil to keep lighted for one night, but somehow burned for eight.
Hence the miracle and the reason to knock down a big honking pile of potato pancakes, exchange presents with loved ones, and yes, enjoy the freedom to beckon a deity, get down on your knees and pray, or not.
It’s the thoughts that count, so maybe my brief visit to the meager “Jewish section” of the Christmas Tree Shops in Orange wasn’t the greatest investment in time. But it was a well-intended, laughably goy thing to do. And I have a feeling that Stamford’s late, great Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz would have approved.
I almost have some solid Jewish roots, for someone who was never baptized — thank you mother and father — attended Unitarian Sunday school for a few years half a century ago, and doesn’t dig much dogma of any kind.
It was the spring of 1966 and Rabbi Ehrenkranz, the spiritual leader of Congregation Agudath Sholom, was trying to be a good neighbor, to promote the new synagogue at the corner of Strawberry Hill Avenue and Colonial Road in Stamford. So, they sponsored a Little League team for which I, age 12 in baseball-mad Stamford, pitched a couple no-hitters, played first base and hit a few home runs.
One afternoon this serious scholar, who was cofounder of the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University, and the Synagogue Council of America’s representative to the United Nations, came down the hill into Glenbrook, to our team practice at the Northrop Little League field, next to Stark School, to say hello.
Of course there was a lesson in Rabbi Ehrenkranz’s appearance. He pointed out the printing on the front of our team uniforms: “Sholom.” He explained that it meant peace, then went back up to the synagogue. In February, he will have been dead five years.
Sooner or later I hope to find a photo of me, wearing that shirt, among the boxes of family artifacts left after the death of my parents.
These days I find myself saying hello to nearly everyone with whom I have eye contact. In the State Capitol, for sure. But in the parking lot at the Stop and Shop, on the sidewalk in downtown Bridgeport. Contact, commiseration, conversation.
Bring it on, racists, homophobes, anti-Semites. Time to fight back.