January 16, 2019

We Need the Message of Hanukkah Now More than Ever

“For many Jews, this Hanukkah will be a particularly charged time of reflection.

The “festival of lights” is often celebrated by contemporary American families as a child-centric seasonal holiday. In modern times, it’s often been framed in popular media as Judaism’s answer to Christmas. But in the wake of October’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, in which an avowed anti-Semite is accused of killing 11 Jewish worshippers, the holiday’s message and meaning are taking on a more defiant turn.

In an America where anti-Semitic incidents are at an all-time high, according to both the FBI and the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group, Hanukkah has become a more loaded holiday. A time of year that has become synonymous with family and domesticity is becoming a time to reflect on what it means to be Jewish.

Numerous rabbis and community leaders have reported feeling that Hanukkah’s meaning as a holiday about Jewish survival in a diverse religious landscape is more vital in America in 2018 than ever.

“The great strength of America is diversity,” Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman of Brith Sholom Synagogue in Erie, Pennsylvania, told me. “And that’s part of the message of the Hanukkah story. It plays in every year. And it plays in this year even more so.””

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