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  • Writer's pictureKaren L


Since my college days, I have been proud to be a Jew and explain our traditions to non Jews. For the most part, my listeners were receptive and interested. There were sporadic incidents of antisemitism. I ignored them. I actually thought my father--a Holocaust survivor--was ridiculous to be involved with the Anti Defamation League. Antisemitism seemed to be a relic from World War 2. Though names from his discussions, such as John Birch Society, seeped into my mind. I seem to be following his model.

I am concerned about the rise in antisemitic incidents in 2022. My dad died in 2005, oblivious to the power of the internet, social media, emails, and texts in spreading hatred. He was accustomed to a more obvious form of loathing. My mother lived until 2019; however, she could not grasp that the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville were a threat. I happened to be with her at the time. I said, "Mom, look!" highly alarmed as we watched the news. She waved her hand dismissively and said, "they know nothing of real Nazis." She ignored unpleasantness. My parents were opposites in their approach to a resurgence of the hate that expelled them from Germany.

Blessed to be living in the United States, there is a flip side to antisemitism, that is pride, strength, and Tikkun Olam. The various sects--for lack of a better word-- of Judaism demonstrate positive self-regard in different ways with the extreme resulting in brutality and bloodshed. From the Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman Empire to the Irgun who resorted to savage acts during the British Mandate, the Jewish people have a history of impassioned ferocity. The current extremists treat Palestinians with ruthless disregard. Returning to positive acts of pride, my thoughts turn to Chanukah. The winter festival, minor in significance, is a touchpoint in our society. Faced with the commericial onslaught of Christmas, which many Christians abhor, well meaning individuals have felt the need to match holiday for holiday.

Jewish children are confronted with their difference at Christmas. Our society has progressed from the years of my childhood when the only winter holiday acknowledged was Christmas. No sensible Jew would have advertised that they did not celebrate the Christian holiday, especially Holocaust survivors who were afraid to call attention to themselves. Many a Jewish family resorted to outwardly celebrating Christmas with a tree and gifts on December 25, the ultimate act of assimilation and fear. Fast forward to the late 20th century, and we have public menorahs, including one beside the national Christmas tree on the Ellipse in Washington D.C. The latter tradition started in 1979, and it was a timely addition. A new generation of Jews were not afraid to proudly assert their background. Baby Boomers reveled in speaking out, marching, and singing, whatever gained the attention of Americans asleep to a burgeoning multicultural society. Now 2022, everyone knows about Chanukah. Target, CVS, and any other large retail establishment sell Chanukah stuff--cards, candles, candies, cheap decorations made in China. We have hit the big time, I guess. Jews got what they sought. I would rather a person in a small town be aware of Chanukah from Walmart than nothing Jewish at all. The sad part is that Americans continue to be blatantly unaware of our serious holidays.

Public Chanukah lightings have sprung up like mushrooms. Unbelievable to me--the change is mind blowing. Children can feel proud, happy, and excited to be recognized publicly. The President of the United States and the First Lady have had a beautiful truly American menorah constructed from an old beam of the White House and silver cups created by an artisan. President Obama held Passover Seders. Wonderful! Excellent! Actions that serve as antidotes to the rise of antisemitism.

Only one "but" here. Most of the Chanukah lightings seem to be sponsored by Chabad--Lubavitch, an Orthodox Jewish sect founded in Lithuania in 1775. Lubavitch refers to a town in Poland where the dominant line of leaders lived for a century. Other scions of Hasidism joined the Lubavitch line in the 1930's. The Schneerson family transfered the center of the movement to Russia and then to the United States after the outbreak of World War II. Rabbi Menachem Mendel developed the educational and social services branches of Chabad. He became the successor to Rabbi Yosef Yitchak Schneerson. Today 5,000 families direct 3,500 centers worldwide. They provide inspiration, spiritual practice, education, and social and recreational programs to nearly 100,000 of people in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Israel, New Zealand, and Australia.

Chabad demonstrates Tikkun Olam and encourages outsiders or lapsed Jews to participate. On the face of it, they provide much needed sustenance and succor, but the members of the group practice Orthodoxy, with strict definitons of gender roles and adherance to rigid practices developed centuries ago cloaked in a mainstream message and a modern method with their benign online presence.

I propose--like my father would have done--that all branches of Judaism--Reform, Conservative, Secular, and Orthodox--join the public display of pride in being Jewish. We cannot be fearful and quiet. Antisemitism festers in dark corners. Free speech is rampant, both virtual and real. Let us be part of the rabble. We must show the various faces of Judaism--modern, multicultural, and multi-faceted. ©Karen Levi 2022

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