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The Courage of Candle lighting



"There has been a dramatic increase in antisemitism in America following the attacks against Israel on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists slaughtered 1,200 Israelis, including men, women and children, and abducted over 240 others. Jews of all ages, everywhere, have been directly impacted. I recently taught a class for teens in my congregation. We began by checking in with each other, and inevitably, a teen spoke about the struggles she was having being Jewish at school. I knew her struggles all too well.


Students at my son’s public high school, located in West Boca Raton, shared video online of a physical altercation between pro-Palestinian students and Jewish students. Hate speech has been directed at Jewish students. Teachers have shared maps of the Middle East in class with the state of Israel erased. The increased antisemitism is having a cumulative effect on our teens. They often ask, “Rabbi, should I wear my Star of David necklace on the inside or outside of my shirt?” To address this question, I taught them about a seeming contradiction regarding the laws of Hanukkah.


During the holiday of Hanukkah, Jews are obligated to publicize the miracle of Hanukkah, the victory of the small number of Jews over the Seleucid Empire in Judea in 164 BCE, by lighting a menorah, an eight-branched candelabra, and placing it in a public place in their home, like an outside facing window. Jewish law adds a caveat: During dangerous times, one may place the menorah inside the house away from public view. Not surprisingly, our teens made the connection to their predicament: Should they wear their ‘menorah,’ — in their case, the Star of David necklace — on the outside of their shirts, or inside, where only they could see it? The question depends on an important question: What constitutes a dangerous time for Jews, and are we already there?


There is a famous picture that makes its way around social media during the Hanukkah season: a black-and-white picture of a menorah on a windowsill with a swastika in the background. The picture was taken in Kiel, Germany, on Dec. 31, 1931, the last night of Hanukkah that year, by Rabbi Dr. Akiva and Rachel Posner, shortly before the Nazi party became the dominant political party in Germany. One year later, Hitler became the chancellor of Germany.


The Posners could have hidden the menorah in their home, but with great courage and defiance, they chose to place the lights of Hanukkah in their window and confront the symbol of hate and darkness, the swastika. It would have been unfathomable for them to place the menorah on their German windowsill just six years later, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, a campaign of state-sponsored terror against the Jewish citizens of Germany.


The Posner family did something brave, but also something necessary. One can argue that Dec. 31, 1931, was a dangerous time for the Jews of Germany, as it was the beginning of the end for their community, but it was also the last ‘safe’ time for them until after the war.

None of us know the future. I hope and pray that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of antisemitism in our country, but we have to be realistic. As horrible as it sounds, there is a good chance that today may be safer than tomorrow for American Jewry. And so I return to the Posner family and their decision to place their menorah on the windowsill, effectively saying that Dec. 31, 1931, was not a time of danger — yet.


Imagine if the Posner family’s courageous act, shining light in the face of darkness, became ‘viral’ and everyone in Kiel, Germany, both Jews and non-Jews, had placed a menorah on their windowsills for the world to see, displaying the light of goodness in the face of rising hatred and fascism. Perhaps the Holocaust never would have happened. This is the challenge that we face: Can we stand up to hatred and antisemitism together before it metastasizes?


Should I wear my Star of David necklace inside or outside? My answer to our teens was simple: “Don’t hide who you are. I wish I could guarantee your safety, but I cannot. But, I will fight for you in every way we can, and so will our community.” The question I cannot answer is: Will the public also stand up for them, and us?


Rabbi David Baum has served as the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Kodesh of Boca Raton for 14 years, is an active member of the Boca Raton Interfaith Clergy Association, and is the immediate past president of the Palm Beach County Board of Rabbis. He is the grandson of four Holocaust survivors

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