Boston’s Jewish leaders are keeping Hanukkah bright despite increased antisemitism
“Our response to antisemitism is to become become bolder in our Jewish presence and practice.”
Amid rising incidents of antisemitism in Massachusetts, New England, and the entire U.S., the Boston Jewish community is continuing to celebrate Hanukkah brightly and proudly.
Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday commemorating the recovery and reclamation of a temple in Jerusalem, is celebrated by lighting menorah candles each night for eight nights — 1,800 years ago, there was supposed to be only enough oil to light the temple’s menorah for one night, but it miraculously lasted for eight nights.
This year, Hanukkah began at sundown Sunday, and will end in the evening of Dec. 26. Sunday evening, the Chabad of Downtown Boston held their 39th annual menorah lighting on the Boston Common, with a 22-foot menorah — one of New England’s tallest — and remarks from Governor-elect Maura Healey, local elected officials, and community leaders. Hanukkah is a joyful time for Jewish people, but the past few years have been troubling.
“The rise in antisemitism in Massachusetts and around the country is a daily concern and lived experience for the Jewish community. Antisemitism is being normalized on social media, in public discourse, in daily conversation and by public figures with worldwide platforms,” said Peggy Shukur, interim regional director at ADL New England.
Antisemitic sentiment has been on the rise both nationally and in Massachusetts. According to a report from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), antisemitic incidents increased by 42% in the New England region, which includes Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, in 2021, with a total of 155 reported incidents of assault, harassment, and vandalism.
“The pervasiveness of antisemitism has emboldened some to act on their hatred of the Jewish people, sometimes in violent ways,” said Shukur. “We have seen a rash of incidents in the past months, from antisemitic slurs directed at young men wearing traditional head coverings on Newbury Street; signs blaming Jews for 9/11 over freeway overpasses; families finding swastikas strewn on their lawns; and neo-Nazi groups marching through our beloved Boston Common.”
Massachusetts alone saw 108 incidents in 2021, up from 73 incidents in 2020, in 54 cities and towns. These events included the stabbing of Rabbi Shlomo Noginski outside Shaloh Jewish Day School in Brighton; an incident in Newton in which a group of teenagers threw rocks at a young boy who was wearing a kippah while walking in a park; and the firing of a high school football coach in Duxbury who had his team identify plays using Holocaust-related terms including “Auschwitz.”
This number made Massachusetts the state with the seventh highest number of incidents in the country, behind New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Michigan, and Texas. Twenty-nine of the incidents took place at Jewish institutions and schools, 35 at non-Jewish K-12 schools, 15 on college campuses, 55 in public spaces, 4 at private businesses and establishments, and 10 in homes.
The 42% increase in incidents in New England is higher than the national increase of 34%. Last year saw 2,717 antisemitic incidents nationwide, which is the highest since ADL started tracking this data over 40 years ago.
But despite this all, Jewish leaders in Boston and New England are honoring their holiday proudly. Chabad of Downtown Boston’s menorah lighting, for instance, went on as usual, and its Rabbi Yosef Zaklos emphasized the significance in that, noting that he sees it his mission to “add in light,” fitting for Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.
“The Lubavitcher Rebbe, leader of the Chabad worldwide movement, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, taught us that the Chanukah lights are the best antidote to antisemitism,” said Zaklos. “The unique characteristic of light is that it does not ‘fight’ the darkness, but that the light itself automatically dispels darkness.”
Other public events will continue in the coming days in Boston, including the South End menorah lighting and LED show, which will take place Tuesday evening at the Center for the Arts on Tremont Street.
“Our response to antisemitism is to become become bolder in our Jewish presence and practice,” said Zaklos. “As a Chabad Rabbi, I strive to foster Jewish pride by working to make education and Jewish practice readily accessible to all and to engage each person where they are.”
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