Saturday night. Motzei Shabbat. After an uplifting Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Hanukkah, I lit the menorah with my family and then saw the developing news coming from New York. For a moment there, I had bad flashbacks, as I texted family in Monsey to make sure everyone was safe from the machete that tore into a peaceful community just as they were lighting our greatest symbol of religious freedom.
I can occasionally be a coward in real life. I don’t love enclosed spaces. Blind phone calls make me sweat. I tend to procrastinate things that make me nervous. However, I learned a long time ago that there are some fights you can’t walk away from. Hate. Hate cannot win. It has to be named, and recognized, and refuted. Every. Single. Time it happens. It must be extinguished, lest it become accepted and normalized.
I lived in Israel for a rather tumultuous eight years. During that time, there were bombings. Shootings. Kidnappings. Such hatred and loss. I came very, very close a couple of times. At 16, I was at the Hadera bus station just 15 minutes before it was bombed on Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, 1994. Some years later, I was in Sbarro for a lunch date about five minutes before it exploded. We left because it was too crowded — the exact reason it was a target. I once jumped out of a moving cab that was headed the wrong way out of town (thank God to my internal GPS). I went to more funerals than I could count. Burying roommates, kids I babysat for, a close rabbi’s son. Two more teachers, a rabbi and his wife, shot in front of their children at the Shabbat table.
My mother would call me after each attack, wanting to know that I was safe. What is safe? I came to realize that I was one of the lucky ones. It was my duty to live. As much as I possibly could. Knowing in the back of my head that if something were to happen, I couldn’t control it. In the meantime, as one of the lucky ones, I could control my response to the hate and violence.
Want to know what I did each time I had a close call? I went back. The shuk was attacked? The next Friday I would be there. Something at the Jaffa Gate? I stubbornly walked through it. Stifling my inner fear and forcing myself to walk confidently with each step. Because what I was secretly afraid of did not matter. What mattered was my response. That whoever perpetuated that hate would see they hadn’t won. That I was not afraid to be a Jew or to show it.
I’m a big fan of the movie, The American President, and I remember the famous line by a mistaken Michael Douglas, who claims, “We fight the fights we can win.” He is countered by a determined Michael J. Fox who insists, “We fight the fights that are worth fighting.” Rabbi Akiva seems to agree with him. You will not finish the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. You must do it even knowing that you cannot succeed on your own.
Hate is everywhere. After eight years of worrying, my mother was relieved when I returned to the United States to go to graduate school in Manhattan. Two weeks later, 9/11 happened, and we both realized there is no way to avoid hate. Only to fight it.
I am only one person. I moved away from the New York area this past summer and I now live in a small Jewish community in the South. It is a wonderful place, but I don’t think many people are seeing my menorah in the window in my small subdivision. And yet, you fight the fights that are worth fighting. Yes, someone might drive by and attack us because of those menorahs. The thought occurred to me more than once, as my family lit our candles. And then I opened my plantation shutters wide and put my biggest menorah up front.
I made a decision two weeks ago to share every single act of anti-Semitism that came across my Facebook feed. I depend on referrals from my non-Jewish colleagues for work, and was a little nervous that I would alienate some who follow me. They would think I was obsessed, and would hide my feed from their view. Instead, several of them reached out and asked what they could do. Share it, I said. Share every single act of hate and tell the world you see what is happening. That we are not alone, and we do see. We oppose this, and we will not ignore this hate.
Many of us feel helpless right now, watching from afar as one attack after another hits the New York Jewish communities, and many other parts of the world. I keep sharing and sharing on social media. Praying for the outcry and swell of protests that I hope to see happen everywhere. To see Jews and non-Jews alike wake up across the world and realize that the massive upswing in anti-Semitic attacks isn’t just a fluke.
I say the same to you. Share it. Share it and take a stand. Go to public lightings of Hanukkah candles Sunday night, our last night of Hanukkah, when our menorahs are at full strength. Go to the middle of Times Square with your entire synagogue and light as many menorahs as you can. Light at your city hall. Light en masse at your synagogue. Let’s light up the night with our light and our strength. Let us celebrate our religious freedom and show that hate will never ever win again.