It’s coming on Christmas; they’re cutting down trees.
And as it gets colder and closer to December 25, I wish I could be filled with songs of joy and peace.
But I just cannot.
I’m still stuck on October 7th, the date that our most recent Jewish Holiday, Simchat Torah, fell out on the Gregorian Calendar.
Instead of a day and night filled with dancing singing and rejoicing and a little drinking, Israelis were savaged by a fully documented 21st century pogram of blood, burning, death, rape, and the chilling uncertainty of a continuing hostage crisis.
If he is still alive, the youngest of 150 known remaining captives has not yet reached his first birthday.
In America, these horrors are fading into the din of sleigh bells and the tinkling of the red kettle bell volunteer of the Christmas season.
It’s hard for me to go into a grocery store or retailer these days.
Forgive me if verses of Paul McCartney singing A Wonderful Christmastime or even my favorite, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You do not send me into a holly jolly mood as I walk through the produce aisle.
I bristle at songs that tell me my troubles will be far away.
Because now, as I shop for a few Chanukkah presents, some potatoes and onions to fry up into potato latkes for the most Zionist holiday there is (A Great Miracle Happened There, right?), my shattered heart and soul remains stuck on the October 7th Simchat Torah massacre.
Do you know that the start of the Jewish New Year is marked by a month’s worth of holidays?
For me, September leading into October was the happiest I’d been in a long time.
Celebrating Rosh Hashanah at our new congregation truly felt like a new year, a new beginning. Fellow congregants spanning generations packed the sanctuary at the height of the two-day holiday around the Torah service.
We were praying, singing and smiling into each other’s faces mostly unobstructed from masks.
Without fear and casting off the need for social distancing, we were chatting and close talking quietly during services.
We embraced people we had not seen in months, maybe years.
At last, the sorrow and isolation of the COVID pandemic was over.
I had one of the most meaningful and easy Yom Kippur fasts.
The nearly rain-free week of late September into early October provided the perfect conditions for celebrating the feast of Booths, or Sukkot, a holiday spent socializing and eating mostly outside in our makeshift huts.
A holiday to celebrate the fall harvest.
And the fragility of life.
The High Holiday cycle ends with the most joyful of Jewish holidays, Simchat Torah, when we are literally commanded to dance with joy with the Torah, which we begin again. From the beginning.
Can it be almost two months already?
In the overnight hours of October 7, while we in the West slept, all hell was breaking loose in Israel.
In the overnight hours, my phone, which I do not shut off on Shabbat or holidays, was buzzing.
It was my friends in Israel.
What do you mean Tzevah Adom – the red alert system – had sounded throughout the entire country?
What do you mean Hamas was breaking into the kibbutzim along the Gaza border?
Breaking into homes?
What do you mean?
That Simchat Torah morning, going on about three hours of sleep, I arrived at synagogue.
Walking into the lobby, I said hello to the guard.
Looking into the faces of my fellow congregants in the sanctuary, I could detect their own exhaustion and shock.
But I didn’t ask them if they knew of the details.
I was unsure how many checked their phones or social feeds overnight.
At that time, we did not know the details that have slowly trickled out over the last two months.
But we danced somehow, as we are commanded to rejoice with the Torah as we begin it again. A new beginning.
We danced if for no one else but the little children who were there.
They smiled and waved their little flags that depicted the different tribes of Israel just as kids have done through the generations on Simchat Torah.
A young father picked up his three-year-old daughter, her tiny legs dangling down from beneath a silvery black crinoline dress adorned with shiny stars. He danced and hugged her and buried his face in her golden curls.
I could see he was on the verge of tears.
So, for my non-Jewish friends, as you now enter Advent and the most joyous season of your calendar year, imagine the unimaginable with me.
It’s Christmas Eve.
You go to bed, all your stockings are hung with care, you leave out the cookies for Santa.
Your refrigerator is stocked with your feast for Christmas. Is it a brunch? A turkey and ham dinner? What do you usually have prepared by Christmas Eve?
But imagine its all done, waiting to be served with family all around on Christmas Day.
It’s a late night, as you’ve just returned from midnight Mass.
Tell me: are there armed security guards standing outside making sure you are not shot at as you pray?
When you sit in your cathedral, do you look and make sure you know where are the exits?
Do you look behind you at every face who walks in?
Six thirty a.m. From far away, you hear what sounds like a boom of a rocket exploding. Only, there are no fireworks scheduled for your town until New Year’s Eve.
Someone’s stirring, making noise. Is that coming from inside the house? Outside?
You know your kids are excited for Christmas morning but this seems way too early for there to be hearing people up and about moving.
Through your window, you see a platoon of jeeps, carrying armed masked men with rocket launchers.
They break into your home. You are taken, dragged from your bed. You and your spouse are dragged down the stairs. The intruders have smashed your Christmas tree, there are broken ornaments all over. They’ve taken all your gifts, smashed some, and taken some back to their jeep. Others tie your husband up with a string of lights before they shoot him in front of you and you are screaming his name but then realize if you scream too loudly you will wake up your children.
Are your kids are still sleeping upstairs? You pray they keep quiet. Do they know how to hide? But the baby… the baby is crying and will not stop. One of the home invaders goes up to get her, the other goes to turn on the oven.
I know you do not, should not, CANNOT, let your mind go there.
No one should have to imagine a town being taken over, its residents slaughtered on the holiest of mornings. In the most barbaric way. In 2023.
Outside you hear more bullets and the screams of your neighbors. Something is on fire.
You smell a Douglas fir burning.
The home invaders have you now. And they have you now, they are doing unspeakable things to your body.
More screams from your neighbors across the street.
More gun shots and more booms of rockets.
Where are the police? The National Guard?
Inside and outside they violate you among the tinsel and broken shards of Christmas ornaments, then help themselves to some Christmas turkey and sticky pudding before dragging you off by your hair into their jeep.
The White Christmas snow is soaked in blood.
I’ll stop there. I would not wish this upon any of you, my Christian friends, to face such unspeakable barbarism during the most wonderful time of the year.
Now, in the buildup to Christmas, forgive me if I feel it is so tone deaf, even cruel to see the photos of people going to holiday concerts or out at holiday markets. I see trips to Disney, hockey tournaments, concerts, funny selfies.
While my Jewish friends and I have barely had time to understand how to grieve and mourn the biggest massacre, rape and abduction of Jews since the Holocaust, it seems like we are alone, and no one knows how to walk in our shoes. The world is moving on. Or worse, they are blaming us for the atrocities that have befallen us in the most violent and disruptive ways.
Tell me, if you have college kids, are they impacted by the vile anti-Jewish rhetoric our Jewish kids are subject to?
Did they support their Jewish friends, or confused, did they choose to stay neutral?
Was this semester a battleground to prove they deserved to exist? Or were they able to just focus on their studies and get through their finals undisturbed?
Are you shouldering any of our trauma, you, the ones who have had decades to learn about the Holocaust, visit a Holocaust memorial or come out of seeing Schindler’s list shaking your head wondering, how did people let this happen?
I do sincerely hope that you have a beautiful peaceful Christmas undisturbed by all of this.
It’s not your problem, your fight, yes?
But there are glimpses of this horror, this glorification of terror, seeping into the American Christmas scene, as evidenced by the angry pro-Palestinian mobs that tried to hijack the lighting of the tree in NYC’s Rockefeller Center and invaded the mall at Columbus Circle, where shopkeepers locked their doors in fear.
You may have not heard, but a church in the Philippines was attacked by ISIS in a terror attack, killing four and wounding 50. In Paris, a man stabbed a few people shouting “Allah hu Akbar” by the Eifel Tower. He had been brought up on terror charges before, but was let go on the account of mental illness challenges.
My Christian friends, we need your support.
There is something you can do.
As you deck your halls and light up your lawns, please, consider shining one more kind of light in the darkness.
At a time when Jews feel like we are taking a risk to visibly, outwardly be and celebrate being Jewish, as the Chanukkah holiday commands us to publicly celebrate the miracle.
So please, can you please be the light?
We are asking you: Go to Target, Walmart or any big local retailer or yes even AMAZON before this Thursday. Get an electric menorah. And light it in your front window for eight nights.
Be our extra lights this year.
Stand up to hate.
For our sake. And if you know your history, for your sake as well.
Noel Noel, remember, your king was born in Yisrael.