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This Hanukkah, we all must push back against the rising tides of antisemitism

Over the past few years, we have witnessed the world evolve from one that focuses on celebrating tolerance and diversity to one that focuses more and more on radically calling out and criticizing those who many times egregiously and sometimes even accidentally make a comment that could be seen as an insinuating insult to certain individuals or groups.

The radicalization of society has led to a “cancel culture” and extreme sensitivity for minorities … well, all but one. For Jews in the United States, and indeed around the world, it seems as if the only hatred that has continuously been “accepted” by all segments of society continues to be antisemitism.

This hatred, which has grown both in numbers of incidents and in even bigger numbers in societal and social media rhetoric since Hamas’ heinous Oct. 7 attack on Israel – and the ensuing protests in support of the savages who raped, maimed, murdered and took the elderly, women and children hostage – has sometimes become violent, and other times just focus on intimidation.

Most of all, these protests, whether via social media or physical events, have attacked the foundation of “freedom of religion” by intimidating Jews – who fear for their safety amid the rising antisemitic sentiments, insults and crimes – into concealing symbols of their faith.

Pro-Israel demonstrators sing a song during a protest at Columbia University on Oct. 12, 2023, in New York.
Pro-Israel demonstrators sing a song during a protest at Columbia University on Oct. 12, 2023, in New York.

How is fear manifesting for Jews?

For individuals, that could mean removing the sacred mezuzas mounted on doorposts, with holy texts meant to provide divine protection to the home. For some it means removing one’s yarmulke in public, and for others it means hiding their Star of David necklaces.

At the communal level, it has translated to added vigilance. Synagogues, once open to the public to come and pray, have been forced to increase their security, at some points even to the exclusion of visitors. Community events have needed to add significant security and logistics support.

Hanukkah in San Clemente, Calif., on Dec. 18, 2022. In 2023, Hanukkah runs from sundown on Dec. 7 to sundown on Dec. 15.
Hanukkah in San Clemente, Calif., on Dec. 18, 2022. In 2023, Hanukkah runs from sundown on Dec. 7 to sundown on Dec. 15.

But most of all, for society, it shows that Jews, the most persecuted minority in history – who in the last century alone saw thousands murdered and kidnapped in pogroms, more than 6 million brutally murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust and millions religiously oppressed through communism – are once again at the center of the target and feeling unwelcome across the world.

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Rise of antisemitism and climate of fear harken back to earlier struggles

At its core, this phenomenon is not merely about personal safety; it reflects a distressing call to confront the essence of our identity.

The current climate of fear and intimidation harkens back to historical struggles where Jewish identity was under threat, as in the times of the original Hanukkah story. The ancient Greeks sought not just to dominate but to assimilate Jewish communities, forcing the “canceling” of the entire spiritual and cultural identity.

Theirs was an attempt not just at physical subjugation but at spiritual annihilation, and through the miraculous victory of the Maccabees, the Jewish faith and identity survived.

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Throughout the entire ancient Greek dominance of Israel, Jewish history speaks of resilience, too — ancient Jews stood steadfast, clinging to their traditions and beliefs, and after the battle, they emerged as a beacon of hope, a light in the darkness of enforced assimilation and cultural erosion that was endemic throughout history among many other nations as well.

It was their descendants who, in every generation, managed to survive against all odds against persecution, oppressors, crusades, invasions, expulsions, pogroms, riots, terrorist attacks and even the Holocaust, ensuring the continuity of Jewish faith, identity and tradition.

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Though the fear of being targeted for one's beliefs is valid and deeply concerning, history teaches us that erasing our identities is not the solution. In fact, it is counterproductive. Each act of diminishing one's Jewish identity is a small victory for the individuals and forces driving intolerance and hate, no matter what banner they hide behind.

Openly celebrating one’s Jewish identity is the individual’s small protest to those promulgating hate, sharing the message that the Jewish community will not be cowed into invisibility. This pride in identity does not just bolster the individual; it strengthens the entire community, sending the message that together, we, too, can overcome this episode in our persecution.

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This Hanukkah, let us spread the light

But at the societal level, even beyond the bounds of those identifying as Jews, the world, if it truly has progressed from the hate espoused and advanced by previous generations, must also stand up against every form of hate, including antisemitism, without any form of rhetorical preconditions.

Hate festers and grows only when those standing at every pulpit, whether religious or secular, academic or social, fail to call it out. It’s the reason the Jewish community consistently stands shoulder to shoulder to support other persecuted groups.

Yet today, Jews feel they stand alone.

This Hanukkah, as a society, let us spread the light. Let’s recognize and support each other not only “despite” our differences but “for” our differences. Let’s recognize that all forms of hate must be rooted without preconditions.

Rabbi Benny Berlin
Rabbi Benny Berlin

Rabbi Benny Berlin is the rabbi of BACH Jewish Center in Long Beach, N.Y. This column first published on northjersey.com

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This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Jews celebrate Hanukkah amid rising antisemitism. We must spread light