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Dear Friends,

As Cantor Moses mentioned during services last week, one of the rabbinic teachings I have quote frequently in recent years is tied directly to the Hanukkah Festival that begins next week. In the Talmud we read,

The Sages taught: It is a mitzva (a positive commandment) to place the Hanukkah lamp at the entrance to one’s house on the outside, so that all can see it. If one lives upstairs, it should be placed at the window adjacent to the public domain. And in a time of danger… it should be placed on the table and that is sufficient to fulfill the religious obligation.

On the one hand, the Talmud instructs us to place the Hanukkah menorah in the window. Doing so expresses our pride at being Jewish. It tells others that we are part of the fabric of society and stand tall as members of the Jewish community. And it reminds others that, despite having encountered hateful figures such as Antiochus throughout our history, we are still here and remain committed to our Jewish values.

On the other hand, if the type of hate and distain for our people shown by Antiochus is part of our CURRENT reality, we should take steps to insure our personal and communal safety and wellbeing. The threat doesn’t release us from the religious obligation to observe Hanukkah, but it does require us to modify HOW we observe the festival.

I never imagined we would be living in a time when we would wonder if it is safe to wear overt signs of our Jewish identities. It never occurred to me that we might question whether it is safe to place signs of support for Israel in our windows or on our lawns. But, sadly, that is our current reality.

And in this current reality there is no right answer. There is no wrong answer. If we are comfortable placing our menorah in the window or proudly wearing clothing or jewelry that reflects our pride at being Jewish, we should. At the same time, if we are concerned about doing so, we should trust our gut and find ways to continue living Jewishly in a manner that is most comfortable.

Regardless of the choice we make, however, we still continue to live Jewishly and build our Jewish future. So long as we continue to remain involved, so long as we still show up, we are bringing the light of our tradition into the world.

But I think this same wisdom extends beyond Jewish observance.

In that same Talmudic discussion, the rabbis explain that we begin with a single candle (and the Shamash) on the first night of Hanukkah and then include one additional candle each night of the festival because, “in matters of holiness we should always be adding light.”

Our community’s involvement in a range of social issues has been admirable. Jews have been on the front lines of the civil rights movement, the fight for women’s reproductive freedom, the call for full equality for members of the LGBTQ+ community, and more. I have heard from many of you that, in the aftermath of the October 7th massacre, the silence of so many of the organizations with whom you have previously worked has been painful. As one community member put it, “We have worked together, phone banked together and marched together, but when our community was attacked and feels vulnerable those same ‘partners’ have disappeared.”

I have heard the pain this has caused. I have seen the disappointment and, at times, anger many have felt. And I understand it. But our commitment to social equity that was central to our community on October 6th hasn’t changed. And I don’t believe recent events can allow it to change who we are. Instead, we need to “place the menorah on the table,” and find new ways to continue our important work and play a role in shaping a society that is respectful, inclusive and embracing of all. It may take some time to find the right organizations with whom to partner, but to paraphrase the Talmud, “While it is not up to us to complete the task, neither can we step away and expect others to continue the work.”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Daniel Cohen

From Cantor Moses . . .
Chanukah begins this week and with it some of the darkest days of the year. Each year as twilight comes earlier and earlier we light our Chanukiyot to bring more and more light to the world. This year it seems more important than ever to share that light with those around us.

To those who are so inclined to put a menorah in your window, we have an extra opportunity: Project Menorah is a grassroots organization seeking to share the light this holiday season. As you and your family discuss how to advertise the miracle, you might consider printing out one of their menorahs to decorate and sharing one with a neighbor or friend. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate together! 


Dvar Acher – Another, but related, topic…

I have long believed hate and bias are an opportunistic virus that may lie dormant for a period of time only to reemerge when the opportunity presents itself. I also believe antisemitism is a society’s canary in the coal mine. When antisemitism rises so do other forms of hate.

In the weeks following the Hamas massacre, ADL documented a 300 percent increase in anti-Jewish incidents compared to the same period in 2022. And that number is growing steadily. Now we are seeing this disease metastasize. The shooting of three Palestinian students in Vermont last weekend shows just how quickly this virus can spread.

As we continue to speak out against antisemitism it is incumbent upon us to also speak out against other forms of hate.

I was grateful to David White of ADL for spending time with us this past Wednesday night. If you were unable to attend but would like to watch the presentation, it is linked below.

Israel at War & The Rise of Antisemitsm
Rabbi Cohen and David White, ADL Associate Regional Director, discuss antisemitic trends, both before and after the events of October 7, how the war in Israel impacts the Jewish community in the United States, and how ADL is responding as antisemitism increases in places such as college campuses.
Rewatch it here