Last week brought a slew of new anti-Semitic attacks against Jews in the most visible Jewish part of the country — in and around New York City. Jews that look the most Jewish have been targeted in the streets and where they live and work, most recently Saturday night at a Chanukah celebration in Monsey, where five people were stabbed by a machete wielding attacker.
The reactions throughout the community have been varied. Some are demanding accountability from elected officials, some want more police presence in their neighborhoods. Some feel that there should be more support from the non-Orthodox Jewish communities, some claim that more Jews should be armed and some feel that this is another reason for American Jews to make Aliyah to Israel en masse.
One thing we are not hearing at all — particularly from the community being targeted, the most visibly Orthodox Jews — is that we should stop or at least tamp down on displaying our Jewishness so openly. Not a single leader will tell his followers that they should stop wearing yarmulkes or their Chassidic garb in public, and in general to stop looking as Jewish as they do. That reaction simply does not enter the equation.
For while it is true that visible Jews are easier targets, to conceal who we are, even if only externally, would defeat the purpose of our existence. To no longer be openly, proudly Jewish would be giving the anti-Semites what they want — an end to Jews and Judaism.
No doubt, there is a need today to take safety precautions seriously, to coordinate with law enforcement regarding security protocols, and of course to hold our elected officials accountable. But those are all bandaids on an unfortunate situation that has spiraled out of control; they aren’t actual solutions to the larger issue.
As the old adage goes, the only way to fight darkness is with light. Jews have been doing this for as long as we have been a people, and the holiday of Chanukah embodies this point. The central observance of Chanukah is lighting candles and displaying them for all to see.
Even in times of great danger, Jews have kindled the menorah in one public form or another. Today, Chabad’s ubiquitous public menorahs have become symbolic of the holiday around the world, and young Chabad boys and girls spend their time off of school for Chanukah handing out menorah kits to Jews in the streets, and visiting nursing homes, hospitals, and the homebound.
When the Lubavitcher Rebbe began promoting public menorahs, he wrote, “The Chanukah menorah displayed publicly during the eight days of Chanukah has been an inspiration to many, many Jews, and evoked in them a spirit of identity with their Jewish people and the Jewish way of life. To many others, it has brought a sense of pride in their Yiddishkeit and the realization that there is no reason really in this free country to hide one’s Jewishness, as if it were contrary or inimical to American life and culture.”
The Rebbe taught that you don’t save Jews by being less Jewish. The survival of the Jewish people depends on Jews consistently being proud of their heritage and being comfortable putting it on display for all to see.
This applies to the general survival of the Jewish people as well as to fighting anti-Semitism in particular. In a world plagued with darkness, with hate and bigotry, we need to be more Jewish, not less.
For most Orthodox Jews this isn’t a new concept, but as these attacks sadly become more common, it is time for everyone — all types of Jews — to remember that hiding our Jewishness will not help. That doesn’t mean you need to suddenly start dressing like Chassidim, but don’t be ashamed of who you are. If you are a Jew, flaunt it!
We must focus on doing good, on bringing more light to the world. Visit someone who otherwise has no one in their lives. Reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while and perhaps need to make amends with. Find a community to pray with. There is no limit to the amount of good we can do to dispel the darkness.
We must be proud of who we are. We must be the light.
(This column originally appeared in The Forward)