I send you my end of Hanukkah greetings and best wishes for a peaceful, healthy, and happy 2020 from Israel. Yet, while the lights of Hanukkah shine brightest on the last night of our eight-day festival, on this night our Hanukkah seems different, in certain ways darker, than others we celebrated in years past. At this time, the lights of Hanukkah mingle with the dark news of anti-Jewish attacks perpetrated almost daily throughout our country, let alone other parts of the world.
Let us be clear and forthright: The rate and seriousness of anti-Jewish events throughout America have increased following the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, continuing with more than 1500 reported incidents in the last two and a half years, including the lethal attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway. The events of this Hanukkah have yet again constituted an escalation in anti-Jewish violence, especially in the New York area. What have we learned from these attacks and throughout 2019? The following are a few brief observations:
- Some anti-Jewish attacks are meticulously planned and certainly pre-meditated, while others are more spontaneous expressions of hatred. Needless to say, the latter are more difficult to prevent, and detect;
- Anti-Jewish attacks are perpetrated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis as well as many others, so the threat of anti-Jewish violence cannot be associated with any one political or ethno-racial ideology;
- Anti-Jewish attacks now target more than Jewish institutions (like community centers, temples and synagogues, or cemeteries, to cite a few examples;) they target Jewish homes and individuals, including adults and children walking in the street;
- The frequency and severity of these attacks combine to constitute an increasingly significant set of social, political, religious, security and law enforcement challenges.
As Hanukkah draws to a close, and as we prepare for 2020, let us offer special prayers for the recovery and well-being of all who were touched by these recent acts of hate. Further, let us dedicate ourselves to redoubling our efforts to combat anti-Judaism and build bridges of trust and understanding. Let 2020 be a year of increasing discussion, education, and awareness-raising within our congregational family and beyond. Let it be a year of increasingly strategic partnership and collaboration in creating and reinforcing networks of support and advocacy countering this and other forms of bigotry. Let it be a year of increased vigilance and alertness on the one hand, and the warmth and welcoming spirit that characterize our Temple on the other. Finally, let this be a year of mutual support and understanding among us. May we draw closer to each other, and engage in honest, respectful, and empathetic discussion and decision-making as we face the challenges that lie ahead.
The light of Hanukkah is our light. It represents our commitment and obligation to advance a Judaism that promote fairness, diversity, and trust, especially at times like these. I look forward to working with all of you on this and other pressing issues throughout 2020.
With warm regards,
Rabbi Jonathan Cohen