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Opinion: Hanukkah begins; hate escalates

Hanukkah, the eight days and nights during which Jewish people celebrate the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem, begins tomorrow, although certain rituals and blessings will be observed tonight. Also known as the “Festival of Lights,” the holidays are a remembrance of the victory of the Maccabees (children of Israel) over the forces of Antiochus IV (Greek king). When the victors recovered the Temple, they discovered that nearly all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned.


In those days, more than 2000 years ago, it took about eight days for new oil to be pressed and made ready for use. However, there was a single container of oil that had remained pure, but that was only enough to keep the lamps lit for one day. However, the oil lasted eight days. Hanukkah is the commemoration of that “miracle,” and the menorah (candelabra) — symbol of the miracle — holds eight candles, one of which is lit each night. A ninth candle, called the shammash (an attendant or servant candle) is used to light the others. The shammash is set either above or below the eight candles of Hanukkah.


One of the significant writings that has been passed down over time states that “the sons of Israel…[are] to light [a candle each night]… so as to make known to those who come after them that their God wrought for them salvation from heaven…. [During the days of Hanukkah], it is not permitted to mourn, neither to decree a fast [on those days], and anyone who has a vow to perform, let him perform it.”


Hanukkah traditions


So, Hanukkah is a joyous time among Jewish populations. Mourning and fasting during the eight days is not permitted, but if a person wants to fulfill a vow, he or she is permitted to do so. People are encouraged to eat food fried in oil (preferably olive oil), like latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiyot (jelly doughnut).


During Hanukkah, children often play Dreidel, a game in which a dreidel (a cubic-shaped spinning top) is used. Each of the four sides is inscribed with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And the combination of the four letters is an acronym for “a great miracle happened there [the Temple of Jerusalem].” When the dreidel stops spinning and sets, the side that is face up determines whether a player does nothing, puts a token (or coin) in the pot, takes a token or coin from the pot, or takes the entire pot.


Finally, usually on the fifth night of Hanukkah, there is the giving of gelt. Gelt is Yiddish (a mixture of German and Hebrew) for money. Hanukkah gelt is distributed to children, usually a number of small coins, although grandparents are permitted to bestow larger gifts.


Antisemitism


This holiday season, which roughly corresponds to Christmas, may not be such a joyous occasion for American Jews because there has been a spike in incidents of antisemitism. Hate crimes against the Jewish community have been escalating during the past five years. While decades of surveys reveal that right-wing conservatives have traditionally been more antisemitic than centrists or liberals, a 2021 survey commissioned by Tufts University and conducted by doctoral students at Harvard showed that young (age 20 to 25) left-wing liberals were just as prejudiced.


A 2019 survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that more than 60 percent of Americans believed at least one of 11 anti-Semitic stereotypes and 11 percent believed a majority of the stereotypes. These stereotypes include attitudes that “Jews have too much power” and that “U.S. Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America.” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL states, “In recent times, we’ve been horrified by an uptick in anti-Semitic violence. Our research finds that this uptick is being caused not by a change in attitudes among most Americans, [but] rather by more of the millions of Americans holding anti-Semitic views… feeling emboldened to act on their hate.”


Hate is promoted and reinforced by fear. The spread of “replacement theory” has produced an increase of hate messages on social media and violence aimed at Jewish businesses and synagogues. Moreover, we know that such expressions of hate are an outgrowth of ethnocentrism.


Ethnocentrism


Ethnocentrism is a term that was coined by American social philosopher William Graham Sumner in his 1907 eponymously-titled book. The term means “to be centered in the culture.” Sumner used it to indicate a “we and they” mentality, the idea that our way is right and, therefore, all other ways are wrong.


In and of itself, ethnocentrism is benign. However, people who are deeply ethnocentric can be easily moved to action against people who are unlike them. When Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) said, “I love Hitler,” it was seen by most people as another ridiculous and outrageous, as well as hateful, statement by a disgraced celebrity with a history of obnoxious behavior.


However, to those who remember (or even know about) the holocaust, the organized murder of 6,000,000 Jews and other people whom Hitler considered to be non-Aryan, it was disgusting. Some people might attribute Ye’s proclamation to a lack of knowledge about history (and pretty much everything else), but I have stronger feelings.


I grew up in a neighborhood of holocaust survivors. The store where my family bought groceries was owned and operated by a Jewish family. The “French Cleaners” where we brought our clothes to be dry-cleaned was operated by people who had their German prison-camp numbers tattooed on the inside of their wrists. To people of my generation, the holocaust was something that hurt our hearts. I hope that, for at least the next eight days, Jewish Americans can shut out the vileness and hatred of the anti-Semites and enjoy the Festival of Lights.


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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.

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