The greatest ritual connected to Chanukah is lighting the menorah or hanukiyah, each night for eight successive nights as dusk falls. Traditionally the Chanukah menorah should be placed in a window or in a place where our neighbors can see it.
On Dec. 2, 1993, in Billings Montana, a brick was thrown through the bedroom window of a 5-year-old Jewish boy, Isaac Schnitzer, who was displaying a Chanukah menorah.
This attack was not spontaneous — the city had been rocked by a year of racism and ethnic hatred. White supremacists for months had been spewing hate mail, death threats and vandalism against Native Americans, Blacks and Jews. The Jewish cemetery was vandalized just before Rosh Hashanah.
Horrified by the Chanukah attack, the town responded. The Billings Gazette printed a full-page menorah, which thousands of citizens then pasted in their own windows in a show of solidarity that became an international story, an example of how one community stood up to hate. Movies, television shows and children’s books have told this story for decades now, but the message seems to need repeating.
Antisemitism has not been this prominently disseminated in the United States for over 75 years. Over the last months we have seen public figures routinely engage in the most heinous types of bigotry on a national level and we have seen hate-filled banners flying from our local freeways. When it comes to hate speech, we have sunk to a new low for this generation.
This was not the way it was supposed to be, from the very inception of this great nation. The United States was established not only with a commitment to religious freedom, but also an assurance of tolerance and acceptance. As George Washington wrote to the Jewish community of Rhode Island in 1790, the United States would be a country “which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” This year we have done a poor job living up to that ideal.
So this season we take part in community-wide menorah lightings with an even greater urgency. Hellenism sought to homogenize all faiths and cultures; the Maccabees succeeded in battling for the right to uphold monotheism in a world, at the time, opposed to that belief. In our nation, which protects and honors liberty, Chanukah reinforces the American value to allow each one of us to serve God in our own unique way.
The public proclamation of Chanukah not only reminds us of the miracle that happened over 2,100 years ago, but also that we have been celebrating the holiday with these beautiful and vital traditions in each generation since. And this is the greatest miracle of all.
Santa Clarita’s community menorah lighting is scheduled to take place Sunday, Dec. 18, at 5 p.m. at the entrance of the Westfield Valencia Town Center, in the courtyard near Slater’s 50/50.
Rabbi Mark Blazer is the rabbi of Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita.