Hanukkah celebrations starting amid turbulent time for Jews across the globe

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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
SoCal Hanukkah celebrations start amid turbulent time for Jews
Jews are preparing to start Hanukkah celebrations this week amid a turbulent time that includes a rise in antisemitism linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (KABC) -- As Jews prepare to celebrate Hanukkah for eight consecutive nights starting this Thursday, this year is different.

Antisemitism is at record highs, further fueled by the events of Oct. 7 and the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The message from Southern California Jewish leaders: Stand proud and share your traditions with Jews and non-Jews.

"It's a matter of kids playing games. It's a matter of gift giving. Bring in your neighbors. Let them taste a little bit of culinary Judaism and take the opportunity to explain to them why we're even doing all of this," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper with the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Hanukkah events are planned throughout Southern California. The city of Beverly Hills will hold its annual menorah lighting Thursday night at Beverly Gardens Park.

"We're looking for light," said Beverly Hills Mayor Julian Gold. "It's a dark time. We're very aware of what's happening in the world. Our heart is with them."

"Symbolically this year, it has more meaning. I think in lighting the lights this year, it really is a prayer for light everywhere. For peace and for hope,"

In the last few days, some U.S. cities have wrestled with the idea of scaling back their Hanukkah celebrations.

Williamsburg, Virginia canceled its planned Hanukkah celebration out of concern it might send a pro-Israel message. Rabbi Cooper says that goes against what Hanukkah stands for.

"It is completely inappropriate and unfair to hold in this case, the second or third largest Jewish community in the United States responsible for decisions made by a sovereign country, a democratic country and its military. And on the other hand, when you end up cancelling, you're actually handing a victory to those who want to put an end to Jewish destiny," Cooper said.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has launched the Shine A Light initiative to bring attention to antisemitism. This Hanukkah, the federation is hosting four dinners with education leaders, elected leaders, faith leaders and civic leaders - Jews and non-Jews coming together to build bridges against hate.

"We believe that we cannot arrest our way or legislate our way to address antisemitism in this current climate. Instead, we need all of society to come together in strength and in unity," said Joanna Mendelson, senior vice president of community engagement for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Jewish leaders believe taking the time to explain your values to your neighbor is how to make friends and create alliances, which is what the festival of lights is all about.