For more than two thousand years, Jews around the world have celebrated Chanukkah, the festival of lights, which commemorates their triumph in thwarting the ancient Greek empire who tried to forcibly assimilate the Jewish population of the Levant in 165 BCE.
Since then, Jewish communities have celebrated this joyous holiday by lighting menorahs, eating festive foods such as latkes and jelly donuts, spinning dreidel and spending time with family and loved ones.
As we Jews often remark about the repeating theme of our religious holidays: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”
Unfortunately, for too many Jews around the world this year, Chanukkah will be remembered as a much darker period. This year, Chanukkah was marked by incidents decidedly less festive, sumptuous and bright: antisemitic attacks, vandalism and other acts of hatred directed at the Jewish people. Unfortunately, these attacks are all too often ignored by the news media.
In Canada, the most recent data from Statistics Canada shows that the Jewish community – while representing just over one percent of the country’s overall population – nonetheless represents the single most targeted group for hate crimes, at nearly 20 percent of all hate-motivated crimes across Canada. But antisemitism is clearly not just a Canadian problem; it’s a global scourge.
A comprehensive list of antisemitic attacks around the globe would be impossible to list briefly, but what follows is just a small illustration of the depth of incidents that Jewish communities around the world were hit with, and keep in mind, these attacks only occurred on the eight days of Chanukkah:
- Anonymous antisemitic hackers posted swastikas, Nazi imagery and other anti-Jewish messages on the website of Northshore Hebrew Academy, a Jewish day school in New York.
- In Florida, a man chased a boy and his father while, according to reports, he was yelling threats at them. Chillingly, when the suspect was arrested, he was found with multiple knives in his possession.
- At a public menorah lighting near the University of Kentucky, a driver shouted antisemitic slurs at participants and ran his SUV over a man.
- In another incident in Florida, shoppers at a grocery store were verbally assaulted by a man yelling antisemitic insults.
- In California, a public menorah outside a city hall was found smashed into pieces in advance of the first day of Chanukkah.
- In Idaho, a memorial to Holocaust victim Anne Frank – the only one of its kind in North America – was vandalized with a swastika and the ominous words “We are everywhere.”
- In a suburb of Paris, a Jewish family was sitting in their car singing Chanukkah songs, when they were approached by a group of people, who violently shook their car and smashed bottles against the vehicle.
- On a Belgian train line between the cities of Antwerp and Mechelen, a group of perpetrators gained access to the Public Address (PA) system, and reportedly announced: “Attention, attention. The cancer Jews need to leave the train now, or we’ll blow you all up.”
- In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, a man was filmed toppling a large menorah in a public square, and yelling the words “To Ukrainians the power, Jews to the graves.”
The above list is unfortunately far from comprehensive. One can easily extrapolate to 365 days in order to fully understand the depth and intensity of antisemitic actions which Jewish communities across Canada and the world face on a daily basis.
History has tragically shown that what often starts as vandalism or verbal assault can quickly morph into a physical attack. As a result, antisemitic incidents need to be treated seriously.
The news media has a solemn duty to ensure that such antisemitic incidents are responsibly reported, and within context of the extent of antisemitic activity; not to encourage the perpetrators, but to educate the public about the disturbing incidences of hatred directed at Jews that continue to manifest in Canada and around the world.