Hanukkah’s most iconic and central practice — that of lighting candles in the eight-pronged menorah — is meant to be a public one. Jewish tradition asks families not only to say the prayers and light the candles within their own homes, but to display the menorah in a front-facing window for all to see.
For American Jews, the gravity of that practice has grown in the last few years. Showcasing pride in Jewish identity has become more fraught as antisemitism has spiked. Just in 2022, we’ve seen rapper Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) say “I like Hitler” live on television and share a meal with white supremacist Nick Fuentes. Closer to home, the words “Jews Not Welcome” appeared on an entrance sign at Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School last week, just one day before Hanukkah started.
Those aren’t isolated incidents. The defaced sign at Walt Whitman marks Montgomery County’s fourth case of antisemitic vandalism in just the last five weeks. The Anti-Defamation League’s 2021 audit found the highest number of antisemitic incidents recorded since the group began its annual reporting in 1979. Across the country, about one in four Jews have experienced some form of antisemitic harassment, according to a study conducted by the American Jewish Committee.
Which is why, for many Americans, leaving a bright menorah in the window might feel less comfortable this year than in Hanukkahs past. But support and solidarity have also shone through this year. Political leaders at every level — from President Joe Biden to the Montgomery County Council — have spoken out against antisemitism in recent days as they join Jewish communities in celebrating the holiday.
Many such leaders joined an annual event earlier this month hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. Governor-elect Wes Moore pointed out that the gathering included people of all faiths, all of whom needed to share the same fight.
“Antisemitism and racism are the same thing,” Moore pointed out.
It’s not a new observation — Jewish and Black leaders and organizers formed strong partnerships based around that same principle during the Civil Rights Movement. Combatting all forms of bigotry will require that same solidarity between American communities.
For me, the holiday season feels unifying. Americans of all faiths and races take this time of year to celebrate with family, eat good food and try to find rest in a busy world. After Hanukkah ends, I hope we can find that same sense of togetherness in a renewed fight against prejudice and oppression. Putting a menorah in the window may feel different for me this year, but I want my candles to bring light not only to my home, but to my neighbors’ as well.