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December 19, 2014  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Publicize the miracle

by Rabbi David Weizman Congregation Beth Shalom, Clearwater

Have you ever had that feeling like someone is watching you?

Like for instance, you are walking along the outer wall of Central Park at about 11 p.m. and you start to wonder if some one is going to jump over the wall just as you pass and start to follow you. My Israeli Shotokan Karate instructor told me that when you walk in those places, you must emanate the presence of the hunter, as though you are the one who is waiting for that prey to jump over the wall, and of course, he doesn’t know that you are waiting for him. This is some version of the expression, “having eyes in the back of your head.”

When we first moved to Pinellas County, I received some prudent advice from a friend who had lived here for many years. He cautioned, if you wear that kippah all of the time, you should have eyes on the back of your head. It wasn’t long before somebody noticed our walking path to synagogue on Shabbat, and spray painted anti-Semitic graffiti on the sidewalk. We have had such epithets shouted out of passing cars, heard a man cursing some Jew in conversation just as we passed his garage, and once a group of girls shouted out something about Hitler at us, all as we were walking home from Sabbbat services. Not such a peaceful feeling.

But as they say in France, it could be worse. One of our friends from Paris who was married in that Synagogue de la Roquette said that things have been bad in France for a while. One Jewish reporter on the scene that morning said that it was a good thing that the JDL, Beitar and SPCJ were there to protect the 200 worshipers inside the synagogue, because they were shouting things like “Jesus Killers” and had murder in their eyes.

We witnessed such anti-Semitism last summer here in Florida: the graffiti, the mugging of one rabbi and the murder of another on his way to shul, not yet determined to be a hate crime.

And then the attack on a Jewish couple in NYC by men carrying the Palestinian flag, prompted Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the principal of Ramaz, an Orthodox day school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, to consider advising his student to wear baseball caps and tuck in their tzitit. The suggestion unofficially went to press before Rabbi Lookstein approved. Some of the parents were baffled; we should tell our children to hide their Jewish identity even on the Upper East Side of Manhattan? So the rabbi had to clarify his position: “We don’t want this to become Paris,” Rabbi Lookstein said. “It’s our job to educate the public and the leadership of this country that we cannot allow what’s going on in Paris and London and Brussels to happen here.”

It’s been a few months since the end of the Operation Protective Edge, and most of American Jews have gone back to business, notwithstanding the disturbing violence still going on in Israel, murmuring always in the background. But most of us are not feeling too vulnerable in our own neighborhoods, or too different either from our neighbors, until everyone starts to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Now we dig out that Hanukkah box and review the few laws mentioned in the Talmud, tractate Shabbat 21b and expounded slightly in the Codes. We follow the ruling of Bet Hillel on the basis of ma’ale b’kodesh, increasing the number of lights each night as we raise our level of sanctity in all matters in our spiritual lives. For the mehadrin, the Talmud says, “One light for each member of the household” is lit to enhance the mitzvah, and is applied now by each member lighting his own Hanukkiah. If you have eight or 10 members of your family, you might need a fire permit to be mehadrin. But imagine the light. In Rashi’s commentary on the Gemara, we are instructed to place the lights close to the window so that they can been seen from the street by those who pass, mishum pirsome nissa, in order to publicize the miracle. It was a custom in Israel to build a niche in the outer wall of your property to place the lamps for Hanukkah.

In modern times, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson z’l, taught that “Publicizing the miracles which G-d has done in our times is relevant to bringing the true and complete Redemption in actuality” (talk of Shabbos Parshas Vayeishev, 23 Kislev, 5752). Inspired by this teaching, his hassidim now place giant Hanukkah menorahs in prominent public places like Trafalgar Square in London and the Countryside Mall in Clearwater. There is an exemption to the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle in times of danger in which your identity as a Jew could place you and your family in mortal danger, in which case, you are permitted to draw the curtains and kindle the lights in the privacy of your home. Unfortunately, we can make a list of times in our history when we have been in such danger. The question is, are we now in such a time?

Just the other week, in Evanston, IL, I attended a seminar with other Jewish communal workers. The director of the program chose to use the initials RJL on the signs designating the meeting rooms, for our own safety, instead of Renewed Jewish Leaders. That was the week of the Har Nof synagogue attack, 6,000 miles away. In retrospect, I think that was an unintentional test of leadership that 73 of us failed. Not one of those loquacious and eloquent individuals spoke up and said, “All in favor of being identified as a Jew, stand up and say henaini (here I am).” Instead we rolled our eyes and said, whatever.

Now we live in a time to be proud to be Jewish and to publicize the miracle of our endurance over time through much adversity. And despite those challenges we have been able to make great contributions to humanity unto this very moment, many of them quite miraculous. So open the curtains and be ambassadors to the world for your people, and let God’s light shine on us all.

Hag Urim Sameach
Happy Hanukkah

The Rabbinically Speaking column is provided as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis. Columns are assigned on a rotating basis by the board.

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