A Needed Season of Light
This has for us been the most engaged week of Chanukah in a long time. We had a friend’s family over for the second night, we went to Chabad’s lighting and party in downtown Bangor, we had 11 friends over last night, and after the Chanukah party at our shul on Sunday, we’re enjoying the last night with yet another friend.
I think we’re all instinctively looking to come together during this light-themed holiday. This has not been a good year, and we need a little glow in our lives.
We’ve learned—in as horrible a manner possible—that violent anti-semitism is the new normal. This has deeply affected us, even in far-flung Bangor, Maine. At our monthly get-together of men in the community, the shared cost burden of police protection between our shul and the shul across the street was a topic of conversation. Because of my military experience, I was invited to be on our ad hoc security committee. The changes we’ve undertaken may or may not be affecting our image of ourselves as a welcoming community.
And we’ve had our issues here this year. Amelia, after her Holocaust unit in May, received Nazi salutes from peers who thought it was amusing. She was one of many constituting the alarming new statistic from the Anti-Defamation League—anti-semitic incidents are on the rise in grades K-12.
It’s been triggering, for me, as a soldier and veteran, to feel obliged to be a shammes of sorts for Shabbos morning. I’ve wrestled with “do I concealed carry, on Shabbos?” Other members of the community with firearms have asked the same question.
We live in Maine, perhaps the last congregation in the northeastern United States before you hit Canada, but we feel the sting of hate here, too. Many feel as vulnerable as any major community, perhaps more so because we are so small. Security is a bigger imposition on our budgets than it is for larger communities.
As members of our community from two shuls joined us around our chanukiah last night, I couldn’t help but to feel that the horrible events of this past year are bringing us closer. We’re eroding our vulnerability by gathering together, by being Jewish not just as individuals, but in the exact context that our coreligionists in Pittsburgh were brutally murdered. We’re standing together, in prayer, in observance, as a people.
We’re finding renewed bonds of community. Parents and children who are feeling the isolating pang of their Jewishness in places where our communities are small, are asking to affirm their Jewish identity in religious education.
Ordinarily, Chanukah ranks low on my list of religious observance priorities. We light the candles, we wrangle with the implications of the Maccabean revolt, we torture esoteric meaning out of 8 days of oil, and we commit to all the mandated observances. I get irritated by “it’s Jewish Christmas,” and the class of Jews that manage to find all sorts of offense at Santa worksheets and Christmas music in their children’s schools, but seldom darken the door of their Jewish community. I find myself profoundly disgusted by those Jews who demand recognition of Chanukah but send their kids to school on Yom Kippur and Pesach. Chanukah, in other words, brings out all the things I resent about the state of American Judaism.
And yet, this year, I feel like this holiday is forming a very needed connection between all of us. I truly believe people are being stirred to realize the only way to be meaningfully Jewish is in the company of other Jews. The threat of renewed oppression and danger motivates people to seek out their own.
The menorah is in the window for all of us to see the miracle this year. It’s our Jewish “Bat Signal.” Let’s all find our way to the light. Let’s all find our way to each other.
Chag urim sameach.