Anti-Semitism Casts a Dark Shadow Over the Jewish Festival of Hanukkah

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers leads a gathering in Hanukkah songs after lighting a menorah outside the Tree of Life synagogue on the first night of Hanukkah, Dec. 2, 2018, in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. A gunman shot and killed 11 people while they worshipped on Oct. 27, 2018, at the temple. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Hanukkah is meant to mark the victory of the Jewish people over religious oppression.

But in the days and weeks leading up to Hanukkah, which began Sunday (Dec. 2), many Jews have felt defeated as a steady wave of anti-Semitic incidents roiled the country.

Last week, a psychology professor arrived at Columbia’s Teachers College on New York’s Upper West Side to find swastikas spray-painted red in the foyer to her office.

Two weeks ago, a mural honoring the 11 victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre was defaced on the campus of Duke University in Durham, N.C.

And the week before that, a man got up during a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Baltimore and shouted “Heil Hitler” as the audience ran for the exits, afraid gunshots might follow.

These episodes, and numerous others not reported widely — such as a Houston synagogue fire now being investigated as arson — have alarmed Jews and other Americans. As they celebrate an ancient military victory, in which a band of Jewish rebels rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem, many are still reeling from Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue shooting.

The October massacre, which killed 11, has been called the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in the nation’s history. But even before that, incidents of anti-Semitism were breaking records. In its most recent report, the Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents rose nearly 60 percent in 2017 over 2016, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking incident data in the 1970s.

A Star of David that is part of a tribute mural was vandalized with a swastika on the campus of Duke University in Durham, N.C. Photo by Olivia Levine via Facebook

For many American Jews, the flurry of anti-Semitic incidents is a reminder of the stories told by their parents and grandparents of Europe in the dark days before the Holocaust.

And a new survey by the Claims Conference, an organization that compensates Holocaust survivors with funds received from Germany, found that 58 percent of Americans believe something like the Holocaust could happen again.

But are things really that bad?

Most anti-Semitism watchers say no.

Worrisome as these incidents are, they are a sign that anti-Semitism persists but not cause for full-scale alarm.

“It’s clear there’s always been anti-Semitism in the U.S. because anti-Semitism doesn’t just go away,” said Jill Jacobs, executive director of “T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.”

What’s changed, she said, is that “it’s become more socially acceptable to express it.”

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Source: Religion News Service