Every year we (and when I say “we”, I mean my husband) get out our holiday lights to string around the house. They’re always blue and white and generally vague enough to be Hanukkah or Christmas lights. I recently saw another house with a blue and white theme and what looked like Jewish stars in their windows, but when I got closer, they were just snowflakes. I always feel very proud of my Jewishness and even love that our festival of lights can (in all intended original purposes) rival that of Christmas traditions. Even this Wikipedia passage notes the importance of displaying the holiday lights and unfortunately, when not to…
The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the “lighting of the house within”, but rather for the “illumination of the house without,” so that passersby should see it and be reminded of the holiday’s miracle (i.e. the triumph of the few over the many and of the pure over the impure). Accordingly, lamps are set up at a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. It is customary amongst some Ashkenazi Jews to have a separate menorah for each family member (customs vary), whereas most Sephardi Jews light one for the whole household. Only when there was danger of antisemitic persecution were lamps supposed to be hidden from public view, as was the case in Persia under the rule of the Zoroastrians, or in parts of Europe before and during World War II. However, most Hasidic groups light lamps near an inside doorway, not necessarily in public view. According to this tradition, the lamps are placed on the opposite side from the mezuzah, so that when one passes through the door s/he is surrounded by the holiness of mitzvot (the commandments).
This year, was a year like any other until my husband came home with a rotating dreidel projector. Normally, I would be thrilled. We’d been talking about another inflatable that is Hanukkah themed, to add to our blue and white polar bears. Any other year, I’d be ecstatic. This year is different. This year, only a few weeks after Trump won the election, swastikas are popping up everywhere. A teacher friend of mine showed me photos of swastikas all over a notebook belonging to one of her Hispanic students. Luckily, he didn’t know what they were. I have a feeling in a years time, everyone will know what a swastika is. It shakes me to my bones.
Of course, I am a proud Jew. I am happy my husband found such a fun decoration and we display it proudly. We are now officially saying, WE ARE JEWS to our neighbors and passers by. In truth, it is a source of pride and fear. I worry that next year for Hanukkah, we’ll be asking family for a video surveillance system. I worry that others will pass and not see a festive house, but a target. I worry for my sons who are about to start into the public school system where swastikas are more and more prevalent. But for now, we celebrate. We shop and prepare for the holidays and make plans and move on with our lives.
I am lucky to have many jobs and side jobs. A colleague was over dropping off some paperwork and we started talking about the new dreidel decoration. She loved it and I confessed to her my fears. Til that point, I had not verbalized my feelings out loud to anyone and it was rough. She turned to me and told me if anything ever happened to me or my house that she would “have a wall of people standing in my front lawn with crosses around their necks 24/7”. And I just fell apart. I can’t even type the words without tears in my eyes.
I guess it’s good to know that I know warriors of peace, that Maccabees can come in all forms and be from all backgrounds. It’s good to know that there are people in my community who will stand up, instead of stand by. It brings me peace. It makes me feel safe in a very unsafe world. I am blessed, I am protected and I am free to celebrate the holidays however we wish. I hope you find the same peace and joy this year and all the years to follow.
May the Schwartz Be With You
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