Fifth Night: Dedication

To what shall I dedicate myself this Chanukah?

Time is growing short. There are only three unlit candles on the menorah tonight.

To whom shall I dedicate myself this Chanukah?

Once upon a time, and still in too many neighborhoods, Jews are despised among all the peoples of the earth. There’s a rich irony there, since our Torah is emphatic about a command to love the stranger, to be fair with the one who is not like us.

This command, like many of the mitzvot in Torah, runs counter to human nature. It is natural for us to love those like ourselves. It is easiest to hate and mistreat those who are different. We have suffered from this psychological fact not just in Egypt, but in Europe and America as well. We who have suffered from difference know it all too well.

Tonight I read an article in the Los Angeles Times that reminded me of the mitzvah. The headline reads “After terror attacks, Muslim women say headscarves have made them targets for harassment.” I found the headline alone very interesting: do we know this only from Muslim women? Are there no police reports? Is no one gathering data? Does anyone care?

As a feminist and as a Jew, I am horrified by this news, but I am not surprised. After all, hijabi women (women who wear head coverings) are noticeable in a way Muslim men are not. It probably doesn’t help that photos of one of the San Bernardino murderers show her wearing hijab. However, Westboro Baptist Church members wear crosses and carry crosses and we manage to distinguish between them and Christians who mean us no harm.

I posted the article to facebook, hoping to find ideas for supporting hijabi women (for Chanukah is a festival of religious freedom, is it not?) and was pointed to an article on the subject, also from facebook and reprinted in the Stranger. Sofia Ali-Kahn writes that there are things we can do to support Muslim women. Here are her suggestions, paraphrased a bit:

  1. If you see a someone being harrassed, intervene or call for help.
  2. On public transportation, sit next to the hijabi woman and say asalam ‘alaykum (That means ‘peace to you.’).
  3. If you have a Muslim work colleague, check in. Tell them that the news is horrifying and you want them to know you’re there for them.
  4. Teach your children. Tell them how you feel about this issue, and what to do if they see bullying.
  5. Call out hate speech. This is most important when you are among people who may not know a Muslim.
  6. Learn about Islam, and organize such learning.
  7. Write Op-Eds and letters to the editor.
  8. Call your elected officials, and encourage them to speak out against hate speech in all its forms.
  9. Out yourself as someone who won’t stand for Islamophobia. Speak up. Be public about your support for religious freedom.
  10. Engage the Muslims in your life. Make sure you really feel comfortable standing for and with your Muslim friends, neighbors, coworkers.

There have been times, and still are times, when Jews feel isolated in the world, when people have not spoken up for us. We know what it feels like to be anxious and wary, afraid of what cruelty may come at us out of nowhere.

Torah calls us to treat the stranger with kindness. The Chanukah story reminds us that we have been persecuted for our difference. Let us stand with our neighbors against the voices of darkness. Let us light the fifth candle and dedicate ourselves to love.

Image: The image with this article is by Robert Couse-Baker, some rights reserved. For more information, visit his Flickr page.


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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

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