A Message To Students On Hanukkah, Jersey City, and Darkness and Light From Rabbi Rachel Gartner

Menorah and a lamp in a window

For three long years they hid in the caves.
The hillsides filled with the sound of their battles.

Thus begins the poem, We Shall Forever Celebrate Life by Suzanne Sabransky.  I commend you to read it in its entirety here.

When I read this poem this year, searing images came to mind of the dozens of Jersey City yeshivah students – children –  Jewish children –  and their peers in a local middle school and in a nearby Catholic school all on lockdown, as the bullets flew and the chaos roared around them during the massacre in the kosher deli aimed at the Jews.

And then, of course, there are the victims, of blessed memory, whose lives were brutally cut off well before their time.  And their families burdened forever with a grief unthinkable. And then, the Jewish community of Jersey City.  And the Jewish community here, and everywhere.  Oh, what horror to endure this. Again.

When this happened in Charlottesville the American Jewish community was shocked and horrified.  When it happened again in Pittsburgh, we were again shocked and horrified.  When it happened in Poway, again we were shocked and horrified.  When it happened in New Jersey, I dare say we were just horrified.  Tragically, the shock has begun to wear off.

Because we have begun to find imaginable what was so recently unimaginable – that gruesomely violent acts of Antisemitic terrorism happens on American soil.  What a devastating thing it is to write those words.

So let us mourn the deaths of Moshe Deutsch, Leah Mindel Ferencz, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, and Detective Joe Seals. And let us reach out to their families and support their communities. (new window)And in their memory and that of all recent years’ innocent victims of despicable acts of antisemitic terror on American soil, and in honor of Hanuukah, the festival of rededication, let us redouble our commitment to:

Calling (new window) out Antisemitism whenever and wherever we see it – and learning the most effective ways to do that.

Calling in people who say antisemitic things whenever and wherever we encounter them – and learning the most effective ways to do that.

Learning and sharing the vast and diverse history of the Jewish people, because to combat Antisemitism, we need to know it and to make it known. (Check out Jewish history courses offered by Dr. Jonathan Ray and the CJC.)

Learning and sharing the history of Antisemitism, because to combat Antisemitism, we need to know it and to make it known. (Check out courses on Antisemitism by Ira Foreman and Dr. Jonathan Ray.)

Entering into diverse spaces and sharing our personal experiences of what it means to live as a Jew in this world, because to combat Antisemitism, we need to be heard and understood.

Entering into diverse spaces and hearing what it’s like for others to live in this world, because to combat Antisemitism (and for so many other reasons of course) we need to know and show up for others in their struggles too.

And finally, remembering the Hanukkah messages of rededication, activism, and hope.  Again from We Shall Forever Celebrate Life:

Judah, whose very name means Jew,
Rose up, and together with his brothers, defeated Antiochus…

And that long ago flame has never died…
We know it today in the light of the hanukkiyah,

This holiday reminds us; darkness lives ceaselessly at the edge of light,
Yet light has strength, and the power to overcome darkness.
Our people have always had the strength to overcome darkness,
And even in the darkest of days, we shall forever celebrate light.

Rabbi Rachel Gartner