Montgomery County, Maryland, has a large “Orthodox” Jewish community, particularly the Kemp Mill community in Silver Spring. Twenty years ago, my family and I lived in the Kemp Mill community in a lovely home on Lovejoy Street. My daughter got married while we were there, and her reception was in our backyard! We lived there for nearly five years, from 1986 to 1991. It was a mostly white community that had begun to racially integrate.
According to columnist Nyla Burton, in the late 1970s, a black D.C. school official living in Kemp Mill was the target of a hate crime when the N-word and “KKK” were painted on her house and her tires were slashed. During the time my family lived there, in 1989, 25% of the 2,000 Kemp Mill families were Orthodox Jews. In fact, on both sides of our home and across the street were Orthodox Jews.
The way Orthodox Jews live was observed by all of us firsthand. For instance, every Friday, by 6 p.m., they were walking to local synagogues for worship service. They didn’t use cars until Sundays after 6 p.m.; they put up tents in the backyard during special times of the year. Kosher markets and bakeries were all around; they worked on their lawns on Sundays but worshiped on Fridays evenings and Saturdays.
On Saturday, when I was cutting my grass and doing work on my lawn, they seemed to look at me with evil eyes as they walked home from worship. Though my family lived among them, I was unaware of the trouble in the neighborhood. I just did not understand why my Orthodox Jewish neighbors barely spoke.
In September 1989, unbeknownst to me, a spate of antisemitic incidents occurred, rumored to be the work of skinheads. Swastikas were painted on vehicles, 40 cars had their windows shot out with BB guns, and the words “All Jews Must Die Now” were painted on a sidewalk. These incidents occurred a few months after a young Asian man was beaten in nearby Sligo Creek Park by a group of youths and young adults shouting anti-Asian racial slurs.
A community meeting was held and the local police claimed that “youths” were to blame for the antisemitic incidents and that there were no organized neo-Nazis or skinheads in the region. However, a man living in Kemp Mill had recently been convicted for vandalism of the Kemp Mill Urban Park, an act the police claimed was inspired by the 1988 film “Betrayed,” which follows the actions of a white supremacist organization.
We never heard about any of this news, despite having lived right there on Lovejoy Street among many Orthodox Jews.
In a Washington Post article back in May, Emily Guskin wrote, “Few American Jews are non-White.” However, in her article, she talked about a new poll that shows that this situation is likely to change
In the United States, there are at least 200,000 Black American Jews, a small number when we are speaking about the entire country. Some are biracial with a Jewish parent, some converted and some belong to mostly Black Hebrew congregations that formed at the turn of the 20th century.
For many American Jews, Hanukkah (Nov. 28-Dec. 6) is pretty much the same thing, which is to say, not a major Jewish holiday. The real holidays are the Jewish New Year, the Day of Atonement in the fall and Passover in the spring. But because of Christmas, everyone expects you to be celebrating something in December and giving presents, so Hanukkah fits the bill, especially since it’s a celebration of freedom.
It marks the overthrow 2,300 years ago of the Assyrians from Israel and a rekindling of the eternal light in the sacked temple. There was only enough oil to light it for one day, but it lasted eight days — this part is the miracle!
That’s why Hanukkah is eight days with an eight-branched candelabra called a menorah lit each night, one candle for each day.
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.