Hanukkah: Finding hope to resist antisemitism - opinion

This Hanukkah, like the Maccabees, I hope we can find strength in numbers and resist antisemitism in all its forms.

 HANUKKAH AND the US Jewish community: An artist creates a mural to honor late US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the famous dissent collar she wore. The hamsa is for added protection.  (photo credit: Mike Wirth)
HANUKKAH AND the US Jewish community: An artist creates a mural to honor late US Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the famous dissent collar she wore. The hamsa is for added protection.
(photo credit: Mike Wirth)

There has been a lot of talk about antisemitism recently. Some people are surprised to discover antisemitism still exists in the 21st century after Kanye West made his views public on Twitter, followed by echoes of support. But as a Jewish college student in the Bible Belt, I’m just surprised to see it in the news.  

In high school, I took a “Remember the Holocaust” course. On the first day, my teacher asked if anyone had ever experienced antisemitism. When no one raised their hands, I felt compelled to answer. I didn’t realize how lucky I had been to struggle to produce a humorous one – “My childhood best friend’s mom never let us hang out during the holidays because she was afraid I’d tell her about Santa Claus,” I said.

“My childhood best friend’s mom never let us hang out during the holidays because she was afraid I’d tell her about Santa Claus.”

Lara Boyle

This earned some light-hearted chuckles. The next class, I found a swastika drawn on the corner of my desk. I’d have to get used to being the only Jew in the room, which I didn’t find funny anymore.

I became the punchline of Holocaust jokes about gas chambers and ovens. A boy I was friends with routinely did the Hitler salute at me as an act of what he called “dark humor.” Once, at his party, he asked if anyone had taken my clothes. I asked if he said coat, even though it was nearly 90 degrees outside. “No,” he smirked. “You know, like how the Nazis took the Jews’ clothes before they went to Auschwitz.”

 Dave Chappelle introduces Jay-Z during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland, Ohio, US October 30, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/Gaelen Morse) Dave Chappelle introduces Jay-Z during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland, Ohio, US October 30, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/Gaelen Morse)

I don’t know what was worse – the fact that he said it, or that all of my friends heard his words and laughed. His actions came to mind when Dave Chappelle echoed West in his Saturday Night Live monologue. Humor can be harmful when it subjects others to hate to elicit laughs from a large audience. 

THE MORE celebrities are openly antisemitic, the more antisemitism increases online. Fans of these pop-culture icons view their actions as permission to copy the same behavior. Before his account was suspended by Elon Musk over an image of a swastika merged with a Star of David, West had over 30 million followers on Twitter. There are only 14.8 million Jewish people in the world. Unless these despicable acts are followed by accountability, the snowball effect of antisemitism will continue at a rapid pace.  

As an Israeli-American (born in the US with dual citizenship), I have been called a “Zionist” as if it is a dirty word, and seen my peers post anti-Israel content online, including one girl who compared Israelis to Nazis. 

At my university last spring, a swastika was found on the doors of Jewish students with the words “Die Jews” underneath. The perpetrator got away. Despite the blatant mezuzah on my door, I was safe. But as the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, I can never forget the sense of danger I felt wearing my Star of David necklace on campus afterward. There is not much difference between publicly saying you’re going to go “death-con 3” on Jewish people and writing “Die Jews” beneath a swastika.  

Standing strong together against antisemitism

Afterward, students and faculty held a vigil to denounce antisemitism across campus. Seeing my peers and professors stand in solidarity with us, I saw that we were stronger together than whoever committed the crime was individually. Rather than divide us, it brought us closer as a community. The perpetrator tried to shame us, and instead we, alongside the university community supporting us, found pride in our Jewish identities.

We spoke up because, as Elie Wiesel once said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” 

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

Elie Wiesel

Hanukkah is a story about hope. Even though the Maccabees were outnumbered by the Greeks, whose far larger army stole their temple and killed anyone unwilling to convert to paganism, they fought back against their oppressors and won. To honor the victory, the warriors decided to light the menorah, but all they had left was a tiny jar of oil that could not last more than 24 hours. Or so they thought. Beating the odds stacked against them, the Jews witnessed another miracle – the candles burned bright for eight days.

This Hanukkah, like the Maccabees, I hope we can find strength in numbers and resist antisemitism in all its forms. Our voices may seem as small as the little jar of oil, but I believe that, if we all come together, our light will overcome the darkness.

The writer is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her work has been published in Newsweek and The Huffington Post. She writes about issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion and Jewish life.