US Hanukkah celebrations subdued amid Israel-Hamas conflict

Hanukkah gets underway Thursday, and many Jewish communities are toning down this year’s celebrations in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack in Israel in October and the ongoing war in Gaza. 

This year’s holiday also comes during a period of growing antisemitism in the U.S., according to the Anti-Defemation League. 

“My heart is heavy because we haven’t had to experience something like this in America in so long,” said Rabbi Esther Lederman, director of congregational innovation and leadership at the Union for Reform Judaism. “Hanukkah is really a celebration of Jewish pride, a rededication to our wisdom. It hearkens back to another age when it was not safe to be Jewish, so celebrating this holiday in this moment in America has this deep resonance of what does it mean to be a Jew in a moment of fear, but we talk a lot about the miracle of light.”

Given growing levels of antisemitism, Lederman addressed how open should the Jewish community be in celebrating the eight-day holiday. 

“I understand the fear,” she said. “I want people to know that fear is a normal reaction in this moment. And they have to do what’s best for their moment.

“At the same time, and there’s actually a teaching in the Talmud that says we should place it in the window, but in a moment of fear, in a moment where we as the Jewish community have to be careful, it’s OK to put the menorah somewhere else in your house if you are too anxious to publicize the miracle.”

Lederman said she doesn’t want to hide her Jewish faith, adding, “My only hope is that we can not let that fear paralyze us because that would be even more frightening to me.”

In late November, the Anti-Defamation League released results of a survey finding 73% of Jewish-American college students and 44% of non-Jewish students have experienced or witnessed antisemitism since the start of the school year. In a similar survey conducted in 2021, 32% of Jewish students said they had experienced antisemitism on college campuses.