ISSUES OF FAITH: Find courage in the lights of the season

“The menorah reminds us of the miracle that no matter how dark life may be, there remains a source of light deep inside us. The light our soul reflects and refracts is the light from the One who is all brightness” — Rabbi Michael Strassfeld.

THIS YEAR ESPECIALLY, Jews looked forward to immersing themselves in the spirituality of Chanukah, basking in the renewal of light during these dark times. With a 300 percent jump in antisemitic acts after Oct. 7 and the Israel-Hamas war, the silence from groups that Jews have always supported has stunned the Jewish community, causing fear and abandonment.

In a recent speech, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest ranking Jew in Congress, stated why Jews feel so afraid and betrayed. “To us, the Jewish people, the rise of antisemitism is a crisis — a five-alarm fire that must be extinguished. For so many other people of good will, it is merely a problem, a matter of concern.”

He pointed out how American Jews have consistently stood for the rights of minorities, supported the Civil Rights movement (half the civil rights workers who traveled to Mississippi to register voters were Jewish, including Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, who were murdered alongside Black activist James Chaney), defended the rights of women, the LBGTQ+ community and Muslim, Asian and Indigenous Americans. And yet, the silence of those organizations has been deafening. Instead of speaking up for Jews, many have joined pro-Palestinian protests, often spewing Hamas slogans.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” (Martin Luther King, Jr.).

The massacre, rape and horrific sexual violence upon innocent Israeli women by Hamas terrorists seems to be seen as not worthy of vocal condemnation, especially from UN international women’s organizations, or talk of “what about-ism,” making false equivalence to events in Israel’s history.

Jews as a group have been blamed for the Israeli government’s policies, and attacks on American Jewish citizens, businesses and religious centers are happening with alarming regularity.

Jewish homes have been vandalized simply because they have a mezuzah on their doorposts.

Most Jewish Americans support a two-state solution in Israel and disagree with the Netanyahu administration’s encouragement of militant settlers in the West Bank. Schumer said, “When Jewish people hear chants like ‘From the River to the sea’, a founding slogan of Hamas, a terrorist group that is not shy about their goal to eradicate the Jewish people, in Israel and around the world, we are alarmed.”

He asked that Americans learn the history of the Jewish people and the long, complex history of Israel and the Palestinians.

Jews fear a world without the refuge of Israel because, before it existed, they were at the mercy of antisemites in every country.

Recent events make us feel alone and afraid as we watch history repeat itself.

Schumer noted it is possible to both abhor Hamas and at the same time condemn the destruction that has rained down on the Palestinian people in Gaza, deploring what is happening to innocent Palestinians.

At the same time, we must recognize the dilemma facing Israel. Hamas deliberately places themselves and their weapons in schools, hospitals and refugee camps, and in tunnels underneath civilian areas, illustrating how little they care for their own people.

With such a complicated situation and a long, convoluted history, simplistic slogans like “Free Gaza” or “Stop the Colonizers” only distort the situation with false narratives, giving people license to engage in indiscriminate hatred.

History teaches us that a rise in antisemitism is always the canary in the coal mine, and when it becomes commonplace, so too does hatred against others. Hence we saw the murder of an innocent Palestinian American child, the shooting of three young college students of Palestinian descent, paralyzing one, and attacks on mosques.

Hate begets hate and silence only encourages its spread.

Silence has given rise to an ancient fear amongst Jews. We are afraid because every Jew knows throughout history, when people stayed silent, they were targeted. Fear because as Elie Wiesel said, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

May all the lights of this joyous season inspire you to find the courage to speak out against evil and refuse to be silent. We can then begin to bring light, a metaphor for the Divine, to a very dark and frightening world.

Kein yehi ratzon … may it be God’s will. Shalom.

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Suzanne DeBey is a lay leader of the Port Angeles Jewish community. Her email is debeyfam@olympus.net.

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