Image: Menorah with 5 candles lit, by Robert Couse-Baker, some rights reserved.
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 places, Jews are despised among all the peoples of the earth. Nevertheless our Torah is emphatic that we must love the stranger, and be fair with the person 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 who have suffered from difference ourselves know it all too well.
For the past several weeks I have read article after article that reminded me of this mitzvah. In one such story, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was attacked in Seattle at a university. If you google “anti-Muslim violence,” you will see many such articles.
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 believe it is important for each of us to think about what we will do when we see an act of violence or harassment against a fellow human being. Sofia Ali-Kahn writes that there are things we can do to support Muslim women. Here are her suggestions, paraphrased a bit:
- If you see a someone being harrassed, intervene or call for help.
- On public transportation, sit next to the hijabi woman and say asalam ‘alaykum (That means ‘peace to you.’). Alternatively, simply make friendly small talk.
- If you have a Muslim work colleague, check in with her. Tell her that the news is horrifying and you want them to know you’re there for her.
- Teach your children. Tell them how you feel about this issue, and what to do if they see bullying.
- Call out hate speech. This is most important when you are among people who may not know a Muslim, who may feel that since no Muslim is around, hateful speech about them is OK.
- Learn about Islam, and organize such learning.
- Write letters to the editor and Op-Eds.
- Call your elected officials, and encourage them to speak out against hate speech in all its forms.
- Out yourself as someone who won’t stand for Islamophobia. Speak up. Be public about your support for religious freedom.
- Engage the Muslims in your life. Learn to 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 person we do not know 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.
This is an update of an earlier post.