Friday, December 23, 2016

The Hanukkah-Christmas convergence couldn’t be more symbolic of the light we must embrace (WaPo)

Lighting the candles of the Hanukkah Menorah. (iStockphoto)

The Hanukkah-Christmas convergence couldn’t be more symbolic of the light we must embrace

By Petula Dvorak Columnist
December 22 at 4:29 PM

“Lighting a candle in the darkness — that is something that stands on its own,” Rabbi Jack Moline told me just as that early winter night was closing in and the Christmas lights around us began twinkling.

It’s a powerful image, a strong metaphor for both Christians and Jews.

The start of Hanukkah and Christmas fall on the same day this weekend, a rarity that comes only every few decades. It means millions of people of both faiths will be lighting candles together, across the land.

Hello? Haters? Are you seeing this celestial bat signal?

It’s a sign. Interfaith wonderpowers: Time to activate. Because the darkness has been deep this year.

[Trump vs. Obama in the alleged war on Christmas]

For ages, anti-Semitism felt dead or maybe just dormant in the ugliest, dark corners of America, where moon-landing and illuminati conspiracy theories writhed.

But since the start of this presidential campaign, there has been a resurgence of swastikas and hate speech. Trolls are trying to ignite the Internet with pictures of ovens or subversive signals sent to people with Jewish-sounding names.

“It’s no surprise to me that there are people who hate Jews for being Jews,” said Moline, who is president of the national Interfaith Alliance.

History will never allow American Jews to completely exhale, not even in the country where George Washington, Founding Father Numero Uno, sent that lovely letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Rhode Island back in 1790:

“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid,” he wrote.

Rabbi Gerry Serotta, the executive director of the InterFaith Conference on Washington, said that America has been wonderfully hospitable to Jews. More than 40 percent of the world’s Jews live here.

Both Serotta and Moline grew up when Jewish kids were bullied in school, slurs and jokes were common and there were quotas on the number of Jews admitted to American universities.

But their kids? They’ve experienced none of that.

And the stuff they’re seeing today is scary.

Not just scary because there are swastikas on a school bathroom wall in tolerant and enlightened Bethesda. Not only frightening because a guy who hosted a showcase of bigotry and hate — Stephen K. Bannon — will work in the high reaches of the Trump White House.

But today’s atmosphere is terrifying because of what other minorities are facing.

“What Jews are experiencing now ain’t nothing,” Moline said.

A people who saw their communities destroyed and their families slaughtered by the millions during the Holocaust are understandably appalled by how Muslims are now being targeted in this country.

While Merry Christmassing across the country this week, Trump underscored his commitment to a nationwide Muslim registry and a ban on Muslim immigrants.

“You know my plans all along,” Trump declared.

This — far more than a swastika scrawled on a building — is terrifying.

“If they’re asking Muslims to register, of course we’ll get every Jew in America to register,” Rabbi Daniel Zemel vowed at a Friday night Shabbat service at Temple Micah in the District last month. “If they’re going to start deporting people, we’ll make Temple Micah into a sanctuary.”

Moline agreed, joining Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims outside Masjid Muhammad, which calls itself “The Nation’s Mosque,” in Northwest Washington last month and saying, “I will be the first in line to say, ‘Ana Muslim!’ ‘I am a Muslim!’ ”

It’s because Jews remember not just the Nazis, but people like Marion Pritchard.

Pritchard, a Dutch social work student, was 96 when she died in Washington last week.

She was credited with feeding, clothing and hiding more than 150 Jews during the Holocaust, many of them children.

She even killed a Nazi collaborator who discovered one of the hideouts she used under floorboards. She shot him and slipped his corpse into a coffin with another cadaver to escape detection.

Pritchard always insisted that none of it would have been possible without the assistance of others.

Serotta pays tribute to Christians like her every Christmas. His family goes out for Chinese food, as many Jewish families do, and then volunteer at a local church’s soup kitchen so Christians can have the night off to celebrate with their families.

He’ll do it again this year and light his Hanukkah candle when he gets home.

The rabbi’s America is the one we must embrace — a place of love, religious freedom and tolerance.

George Washington was very clear in his letter to the Jews he visited in Rhode Island, explaining that the United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

And now is a good time to live up to that promise, to light a candle in the darkness.

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