We wish that we could join Jewish people all over the world in celebrating Hanukkah this year without any sense of fear or worry about the future but just the simple joy of the season.
But the events of this year, and really of recent years, give us great pause about rising anti-Semitism in America and the larger world.
The persecution of a people simply for who they are or how they worship is unacceptable and must be rejected and confronted. And today, it seems important to be reminded that, for reasons hard to fathom, the Jewish people are consistently singled out for persecution, prejudice and violence not only as a historical matter but, now, in our time and our home.
The examples are too many to count, but we want to focus on a few important moments.
Remember that on Oct. 27, 2018, a gunman massacred 11 people in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. They were just worshiping. The shooter, whose name we will not write here, was an avowed anti-Semite and white supremacist who trucked in outrageous conspiracies about Jews.
Then, earlier this month, a man and woman opened fire on a Kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, after murdering a police officer. Their motivation? Pure anti-Semitism. The main shooter in this case was not a white supremacist but a black man and member of the Black Hebrew Israelites, a hate group with a crazy worldview that holds Jewish people are some kind of imposters.
We single out these two events not because they are unique in the world but because it is so plain that the shooters in Pittsburgh and Jersey City would find little in common beyond one thing — hatred of Jewish people.
This is what is so insidious about anti-Semitism — it seems to flow into every sort of dark ideology, binding conspiracies so outlandish and stupid as to be laughable if it weren’t for the very real violence they generate.
Such conspiracies aren’t hard to find in the broader culture either, and anti-Semitism manifests much more commonly in indirect intimidation — the scrawling of swastikas or the appearance of flyers. Or it curls into political discourse in frightening ways, often underpinning the worst elements of populist and nationalist rhetoric.
Anti-Semitism’s pernicious role in European politics traces back too many generations to count. But it is alive and well, even thriving, now. Britain’s Labour Party — a leading party despite its epic losses in the last election — has faced complaints from its own Jewish members for prejudice.
But Europe is not alone. On the left and the right in our own country, we are reminded of this simmering and perpetual prejudice.
In Jersey City, after the murders in the Kosher market, an African American school board member used social media (of course) to call Jewish people “brutes,” leading to the city’s mayor and New Jersey’s governor to call for her resignation.
On the right, there is no shortage of examples either. The Rockland County (New York) Republican Party recently came under fire for producing a video with anti-Semitic themes and tropes.
On certain college campuses, meanwhile, it is increasingly hard to parse out anti-Israel sentiment from straight up anti-Semitism.
No people should endure this sort of prejudice without the firmest statement from society that it is unacceptable. Prejudice leads to hate, and hate leads to dehumanization and, ultimately, destruction.
Hanukkah is a festival of lights. We need more light in our lives as people. We need it to shine more brightly than the ignorance and cruelty of prejudice and hatred.
We hope that during this year’s Hanukkah, everyone in reach of these words will shine such light.