Many years ago my mom sat down with me at the dinner table and said, “Choosing to be Jewish means understanding that you will be swimming up stream against the main current of society”. At the time I didn’t really understand the full depth of this statement. Fast forward to my life now and I understand it more than ever. With the recent tragic attacks on Jews all over the world, Jewish communities all around the world are changing how they act and having to protect themselves more then ever. Rabbi’s are learning self-defense classes. Parents are teaching their children about Anti-semitism and how to cope with it.
As a Jewish mother it makes me afraid for my child. What do I say to my child? Do we shield who we are and practice in secret as our ancestors did so long ago? It reminds me of the story of Hanukkah. Our people were under Greek rule by King Antiochus IV. The dreidel was created as a simple means of disguising the true intentions of Jews who secretly continued to study the Torah. When soldiers would walk by on patrol the men would quickly hide their books and pull out small tops and play with the children.
But Judah Maccabee had other ideas. He didn’t want to sit by in silence and in fear as his world was being dominated by the Greeks. He did not want to hide his Jewish identity and let the Greek army take away everything they had. So he and his small army fought back against their rule and were eventually victorious. Hanukkah is the only holiday on the calendar in which we are commanded to “let our light shine” to the world. So we place our hanukkiyot (menorahs) on the window sill to let the light shine to the world. For eight nights we say, “We are Jews. This is who we are and we are still here!”.
Now the world is changing. As Jewish parents we have a choice to live in fear, or to rise above that fear and choose to cling to hope. A pillar of our beliefs is tikkun olam (repairing the world). Just as we have a duty to protect our families, so too do we have a duty to shine our light to the world and help others. Moving forward I choose to teach my daughter to be mindful of her surroundings. I will teach her that there are those in the world who do not like the way we live our life. However, I will teach her that who you are, and how you live your life and treat others is what is most important. I will remind her of all the times someone did a random act of kindness that helped us. The world is still filled with good, honorable people. It is that hope that I will hold on to and pass on to my child.
We are Jews, which means we are resilient, strong, and filled with hope. What will you choose?