The God Squad: Fearful Jew at Hanukkah time
Q: I wanted your opinion on something. Every year I put up Hanukkah decorations in my window and door. Cardboard pictures, signs, electric menorah, light-up dreidels, etc. Due to the antisemitism directed at Jewish Americans now, a family member said to "lie low" and NOT put up any decorations or even an electric menorah. This goes against my "grain".
The family member who said not to put up any decorations is afraid that marauding cars may come and attack our house or property. Personally, I don't think so. However, something on Yahoo said that the Israeli government has told Israelis traveling or living outside Israel to not wear yarmulkes or the Star of David now. Does this also now hold for American Jews? Has America now become the new Nazi Germany? Do you think that we have to "lie low" here or can I continue to put up my yearly Hanukkah decorations and electric menorah? Your opinion would be greatly appreciated ASAP, please, since this year, Hanukkah comes in early December.
In 1995, there was antisemitism in Billings, Montana, and the Christians in that town said "not in my neighborhood" and supported the few Jews living there. ALL the Christians in that town put menorahs in their windows, too! Wouldn't it be great if that happened in NY and in America now?! Unfortunately, there are too many antisemites in the United States and too many extremists both left and right in politics. What should I do at Hanukkah this year? Please give me your thoughts. Personally, I would feel bad if I do not put up my yearly decorations. I'm sure many people who read your columns are also uncertain what to do this year and for future years. Thank you. – Anonymous
A: Definitely, positively, absolutely you should put up your Hanukkah decorations in advance of the first night of Hanukkah on Dec. 7. The ultimate surrender to terror or prejudice is the willingness to change your life. Showing public pride in your Jewish identity and displaying a Hanukkah menorah in joy at the holiday of lights is a small way to say to the world that we are not afraid.
What would come next? Would you consider taking down the mezuzah on the doorpost of your house to further disguise your Jewishness? Be brave. Light the lights.
Once you go beyond the doorsteps of your home my advice is slightly different.
We must all realize during these difficult times that prudence is not necessarily cowardice. It is not cowardice to avoid wearing expensive jewelry and watches while walking in dangerous neighborhoods. I advised students on college campuses with a history of antisemitic violence against Jewish students to not wear Jewish stars or a kipah (a baseball hat will do) unless they are trained in self-defense.
A college student I know in London with a tattoo on her finger now covers it with a bandage when she goes out. Safety trumps pride when you are vulnerable and alone. When the president of Cornell tells Jewish students not to go to the Jewish center because the university could not protect them, we must all sorrowfully agree with the FBI director that we have entered an unprecedented time of skyrocketing antisemitism in a land that we all thought was mostly free of this vile bigotry.
My heart breaks for them. I cannot accept and I cannot comprehend why my grandchildren are forced to deal with the same hatred that terrified my grandparents.
However, despite the palpable dangers, our homes are where I draw the line. Especially this year, our Hanukkah lights need to be lit. This year they are not just decorations. This year they are beacons of pride and courage.
Don’t lose hope that the good in us will win. Apropos of the famous story of the Billings, Montana Hanukkah solidarity display, I heard a wonderful story recently about a diner near my old home whose owner put out a pro-Israel sign and was targeted as a result. What happened next was that Jews and Christians from the town all came to eat in the diner in a show of massive support that continues today.
Courage comes from many sources. America is definitely not the new Nazi Germany. It is still the home of the free and a beacon of hope for all the world.
Remember Psalm 23. God does not promise us that our lives will never encounter evil. The promise is that we need not fear evil. Be prudent but do not be afraid.
Remember that faith in God was the ultimate miracle we celebrate in the holiday of Hanukkah. That faith will sustain us through these times of trouble.
God is our rock and our salvation.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)
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