Hanukkah’s cel­e­bra­tory light dis­pels dark­ness

The News-Times (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Rob Ryser

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

The cel­e­bra­tory eight-day fes­ti­val of lights, sym­bol­ized by the can­dles of the meno­rah, ar­rives Sun­day night amid a dark­en­ing climate of anti-Semitism in Amer­ica.

“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 af­ter the dead­li­est at­tack on the Jewish com­mu­nity in Amer­i­can his­tory at a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue.

Some fam­i­lies feel the prac­ti­cal need to be cir­cum­spect and con­sci­en­tious about safety, with anti-Semitic hate crimes on the rise. But other fam­i­lies feel the spir­i­tual need to be

con­spic­u­ous about a Jewish tra­di­tion such as Hanukkah.

“I have been get­ting a lot of calls from peo­ple who are wor­ried, ask­ing ‘Is there a dan­ger?’ ” said 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.’ ”

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 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.

In New Mil­ford, Matthew Abel said it’s hard to speak for ev­ery Jewish fam­ily’s re­ac­tion to the rise of hate, ex­cept to say that it is not mak­ing fam­i­lies re­luc­tant to put a meno­rah in the win­dow.

“Just be­cause we are Jews and there is this rise of anti-Semitism and hate crimes doesn’t mean we are more fear­ful of who we are,” said Abel, who at­tends Tem­ple Sholom. “We don’t for­get what hap­pened to us in the past, and we won’t sit by and let some ex­trem­ist scare us into hid­ing.”

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 to 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.

In that spirit, says Rabbi Ari Rosen­berg of New Mil­ford’s Tem­ple Sholom, Hanukkah has al­ways been a hol­i­day of de­fi­ance.

“From its ear­li­est in­cep­tion over 2,000 years ago, when the Mac­cabees fought the Hel­lenists who had des­e­crated our holy Tem­ple, Hanukkah has been a hol­i­day to cel­e­brate Jewish pride,” Rosen­berg said. “We are all griev­ing in the af­ter­math of the tragedy at the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue, but we honor the mem­ory of the eleven good peo­ple who per­ished there when we proudly ob­serve tra­di­tions as they would.”

Rabbi Sh­lame Landa of Chabad of Fair­field agrees.

“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 Landa. “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.

In Dan­bury, the United Jewish Cen­ter will mark the first night of Hanukkah with an out­door meno­rah light­ing and a cel­e­bra­tion.

“The light rep­re­sents the hope and faith and the re­siliency of the Jewish peo­ple in dark times, which is very fit­ting for what is go­ing on in this coun­try,” said Rabbi Ste­fan Tiwy.

He added that the goal was to find a balance be­tween tak­ing extra se­cu­rity pre­cau­tions and pre­serv­ing the open­ness of the hol­i­day.

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.”

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