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Reflections on Chanukah in New York

Monday, January 6, 2020

I spent my winter break in New York City. It was Chanukah and I was eagerly anticipating the opportunity to celebrate with family there and to enjoy all the city has to offer. 

I was not  expecting to find myself overwhelmed by the antisemitic events that took place daily.  As I turned the radio on in the car each day, the  lead story was the same: news of the latest violence.  Like all of us, I was shocked to hear about the vicious attacks against Jews – especially those who are easily visible and easily identified, in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Monsey, and Jersey City. 

Inevitably in times like this, our thoughts turn to our own community and, in particular, to our safety, which must be our first concern and responsibility.

At TanenbaumCHAT, we continue to follow the security advice and guidelines offered by the Toronto Police Department and CIJA (Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs). We regularly  consult with them, run safety drills with our staff and students, and assess our protocols. We all have a role to play with regard to safety and security and we should remain vigilant and report anything that seems out of the ordinary. 

In addition, we must address the larger issues that surround us. As educators and parents, we need to help our children develop the confidence and skills necessary to make sense of the world in which they live. We need to ensure they are prepared for what tomorrow may bring, and can be a positive force and active leaders in our community.

There are 3 major lessons to teach our children.

  1. We must stand up and speak out when we see wrongdoing in the world, whether it is against Jews or other minorities. It is our civic duty and a moral imperative.  We must be informed citizens and thoughtful and careful users of social media; we must  attend communal events, write to our politicians, and do all we can to make our voices heard. As the great British statesman Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.” 
  2. While there are many out there who wish to do us harm, the Jewish community also has many allies from other faiths. We need to make friends who will stand with us and help lead the fight – and we must do the same for them. To paraphrase Rabbi Sacks: we cannot fight anti-Semitism alone. The victim cannot cure the crime. 
  3. We must stand together as Jews.  Most of the victims in these recent attacks were ultra-Orthodox, but the Jews who were attacked in Pittsburgh and in Poway, California represented many segments of the community.  We have more in common with our fellow Jews than we have differences, and we must unite as a community.

Driving out of New York City on New Year’s Day, I came to a literal fork in the road. To the left was the highway heading west, pointing my family and me home. To the right was the exit for MetLife Stadium, where car after car turned off to join the 92,000 Jews taking part in the Siyum Hashas. This remarkable and celebratory gathering is attended by those who have committed to reading a page of Talmud every day – a process that takes seven-and-a-half years. Over the last 100 years, this event has grown immensely and some 350,000 people worldwide now participate. The stadium was filled with mostly Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox Jews, but Jews of all affiliations were welcome at what, this year, became a show of Jewish solidarity and celebration.

This time around, I continued driving towards Toronto, and home. But seven-and-a-half years from now, I hope to take the fork in the road towards the communal celebration of Jewish life and learning.

One of the remarkable strengths of TanenbaumCHAT is that Jews from so many backgrounds find themselves here.  It is just one of the ways in which we set an example for the larger community, as a place where all are welcome, and all learn and grow Jewishly together. 

May we take pride in the centuries of Jews that have been as a “light unto the nations”; may we be joined in kinship with fellow Jews in Canada and across the world; and may we continue to pray for peace while working actively to ensure a vibrant future for all of us.