The full inclusion of Jews as equals among equals in American society did not go entirely smoothly, to say the least. But by the time I came along, late in the Eisenhower years, you could both be a Jew and an American without much in the way of further ado, so much so that Jews of my generation married outside of the tribe with such regularity that it became a commonplace. (The rate of intermarriage when I was a child was 7.2 %. It’s currently close to 60%. Bad news for Jewish cohesion but a signifier of our acceptance.) By the time Adam Sandler appeared on Saturday Night Live to sing his ridiculously funny “The Hanukkah Song,” Jews were so fully integrated into American society that we could both be publicly and proudly Jewish and laugh about it. A mini-American golden age descended upon us, with the inanity and frustration of anti-Jewish snobbery–quotas to keep Jews out of the Ivy League, restricted neighborhoods, Christian-only hotels–and the horrors of antisemitism at last behind us.
Coming from both the far right and the far left, the rise in antisemitism in the United States is so stark that I would warrant that something like the entire American Jewish community is in a state of shock and denial: how could this be happening again? We know the answer of course: the proximate cause is Israel’s decision to wage war against Hamas in Gaza, while the underlying causes–percolating on the extremist right wing–go back to Christian claims that Jews are and will forever be responsible for the death of Jesus of Nazareth, a charge of deicide rooted in a verse in the Gospel According to Matthew. Both strains are currently at play in America, though the eruption of far-left “woke” antisemitism on college campuses is enough to make an old-fashioned liberal like me consider the merits of Nikki Haley.
What’s a Jew to do in such dark times? You can pray, send money to help the suffering, write Op Ed essays, attend marches, cry. My husband and I are throwing a Hanukkah party.
This year the first night of Hanukkah, as always on Kislev 25 (December 7) falls two months and one day after Hamas’s murderous rampage at Kibbutz Be’eri. Seems unseemly to invite a whole bunch of your friends over to light the Hanukkah lights, sing goofy songs, and indulge in major nosh when Israel is in crisis, Gazans are suffering, our college campuses are plastered with posters calling for death of Israeli Jews, and X and platforms like it are filled with such slogans as “Hitler was right.” But since my husband and I throw a Hanukkah party every year that our schedules permit, to not do so this year would, for us, represent a small but significant defeat. It would be letting the darkness win. It would be giving in to despair. It would be allowing hate to crawl into our brains and stay there.
That said, I felt so bad about feeling happy about the blessings that life has recently bestowed on me that I upped my newspaper-reading from two to three newspapers a day, with attendant deep dives down the internet hole, in order to remind myself how awful things are so I could feel terrible again. It worked, too: reports on the deaths and misery of thousands of innocent Palestinians, the vast network of Hamas tunnels built beneath civilian structures, the ubiquity of the pro-Jewish-slaughter slogan “from the River to the Sea,” and the vast internal displacement of Israelis isn’t happy reading. And then there’s the disquiet right here, in the otherwise safe and peaceful United States. Nor is the daily uptick of antisemitic acts. American Jews. The ADL reports a 400 percent increase in antisemitic incidents since last year, including harassment, vandalism, and assault.
How scared should I be? Should I be so scared that I hide my Jewishiness, or at least don’t go blabbing to people that I might not know well—or even at all—that I’m a Jew? (“Thank you but I keep kosher.” Or more to the point: “I’m Jewish.”) Should my sons no longer wear kippahs in public? Should my daughter tuck her Star of David necklace into her sock drawer?
I don’t think so. In fact, I think that the best American Jews might do is be publicly proud of their Judaism. To not shrink from our shared history. To engage in what it means to be both an American and a Jew. To know our own history. To celebrate our place among the families of God.
Thus the Hanukkah party, the shedding of light in a dark world at a dark time, the claiming of kinship, friendship, and family against a world-backdrop of disruption and despair. Thus the upscale donuts in flavors like mint-raspberry and pistachio chocolate that our daughter buys at some fancy donut shop in New York. Thus the sweet potato and white potato latkes. The Hanukkah gelt. The blue-and-silver Hanukkah bling. Perhaps I’ll go ahead and compose my own Hanukkah song.
Sing into the darkness, O Israel! Sing!