It was back in dark medieval times when antisemitic mobs prowled the streets, seeking Jewish victims. It was Chanukah time and Jews were worried about drawing attention to their Jewishness. Surely, this was no time to be provocative and display your menorah outside your door, as was the practice at the time. So the Rabbis ruled that in times of danger from religious persecution, it would suffice to simply light the menorah inside the home on one’s table.
As times changed many took to proudly placing their menorahs at their windows, where they could share their messages of light and Jewish pride with the world. It was an expression of Jewish right against majority might, a reminder of the origins of this festival and how a small and tough group of Jews, the Maccabees, took on the arrogant Greek ruler Antiochus. The courage and the triumph of the few against the many.
It was 1995 in Billings, Montana, when a brick was thrown through the home window of a six-year-old Jewish boy who had displayed his menorah for Chanukah. His family was fearful and contemplated removing it from the window.
It is 2023 and Jewish people across Melbourne and Sydney, Montana and New York, are again asking the same question: should we openly display our menorahs or is it safer to just light them out of sight and out of mind of the numerous antisemites, who have come out onto our streets and our neighbourhoods, into our screens and into our minds?
But first, back to Billings 1995, where something astonishing took place: churches, human rights and labour organisations, businesses and local newspapers urged residents to place menorahs in their windows as a sign of solidarity.
At first, there were attacks against some of those churches. However, people persevered and during that holiday season, 10,000 townspeople put menorahs in their windows to show they would stand together against hate and bigotry. It became known as the Not In Our Town movement.
It’s December 2023 in Australia. What should we do?
For a start, we need to overcome the fear in our own hearts, remember the timeless words of Roosevelt, that the only thing to fear is fear itself; or as the Book of Proverbs puts it: Don’t give in to the moment of panic and anxiety! Don’t let the bullies intimidate you.
Second, Jews need to remember that we are not alone. Even though we have been shocked by the virulence and vitriol of anti-Jewish sentiment, often masked as anti-Zionism, the silent majority of Australians are people of goodwill, and respect the dignity of our many varied and different citizens. I am heartened by the many messages of support that have flowed in over the past two months.
Third, we need to encourage our non-Jewish neighbours and friends to stand with us and help the silent majority to find the courage to speak up – just as Jews reached out in large numbers to support our Aboriginal first peoples, LGBTQI+ activists, migrants and Muslims after Christchurch.
The police chief of Billings, Montana, Wayne Inman, convinced the townspeople that despite the dangers of taking action, the only way the white supremacists would go away was if there was a consistent and united message that the community would not back down.
The locals redoubled their efforts – they kept showing up and lighting up, embodying Einstein’s imperative: “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
To stand by the evil of Hamas is to abet and allow it. There is a moral obligation to anyone with a conscience to condemn Hamas and toxic Islamic extremism. At worst, it’s in a person’s best interests to do so because if you do nothing, they will sooner or later come after you.
This Chanukah I am praying for light, the burning bravery of the Maccabees, the illumination of moral clarity, the glow of compassion, the light that drives away darkness; and the fire of passion that defies the intensity of brutality.
(Originally published by Plus61J)