For some, lighting the menorah for Hanukkah brings extra anxiety this year

For years, a menorah stood with a Christmas tree inside the county courthouse in Missoula, Mont. This year, a local rabbi asked officials to set up a Hanukkah display on the courthouse lawn to show support for the community’s small Jewish population.

The plea has sparked a heated public debate — fueling Israel-Hamas war tensions and divisiveness among some Jews and concerns about displays of their religion during the conflict. Rising anti-Semitism.

“At this particular historical moment” said Josh Slotnick, a county commissioner in Missoula who is Jewish, said a large outdoor menorah “could be mistakenly seen as a political symbol, not a religious symbol.”

Nationwide, most public celebrations of Hanukkah, the eight-night Jewish holiday that begins at sundown Thursday, appear to be progressing without a hitch, according to the Jewish Federations of North America, which works with Jewish event organizers across the United States.

In Detroit, “We’ve had more RSVPs this year than we’ve had in previous years,” said annual producer Benji Rosenzweig. Menorah Lighting Ceremony. Police agencies in the city have said they plan to keep a close watch Potential threats.

The Security Community Network, a non-profit organization that advises Jewish organizations, answered questions about the security of Hanukkah celebrations. Video description Tuesday encouraged people to go forward, but to prepare for possible demonstrations and stay in touch with local law enforcement.

“We take security very seriously,” said Eric Fingerhut, president of the Jewish Federations, which organized the security network after 9/11 and has seen it expand rapidly since the 2018 killing of 11 Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh. “But the goal of conservation is to help us continue to actively participate in Jewish life.”

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A small number of Hanukkah-related events have attracted additional attention or controversy this year, including when organizers of a community festival in Williamsburg, Va., decided not to include menorah lights, drawing condemnation from the state’s Republican governor, Glenn Young.

“Isolating the Jewish community by canceling this Hanukkah celebration is absurd and anti-Semitic.” He posted On social media.

A festival organizer did not respond to requests for comment, but told other news agencies The festival has always welcomed Jewish participants and has never before held a menorah lighting.

Rabbi Mendy Heber of Chabad Williamsburg, who requested the ceremony, described the decision as “a kick in the gut.” But he noted that the lights will still happen at William & Mary, a university in Williamsburg.

“We’re going to make this Hanukkah bigger and brighter than ever,” he said. “This is how we respond to darkness.”

In some homes, however, concerns about security and disagreements about the war led Jews to ask whether they were comfortable displaying their religion in public.

Adam Gulpersch was initially hesitant when asked if his 6-year-old son would put up decorations. An actor based in Los Angeles, Mr. “This year’s Hanukkah feels different,” Gulbarsh said. “The massive increase in anti-Semitism has scared many of us.”

But after a non-Jewish friend offered to display the menorah in solidarity, Mr. Gulbarsh said his fears began to fade. A menorah now brightens his apartment window, and Mr. Gulbarsh launched an online campaign to ask other non-Jews to follow his friend’s example.

He named the initiative Project Menorah And people in about two dozen states have volunteered, he said.

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The candles lit on Hanukkah are technically called Hanukkahs. They have eight candles and a shamash, which is used to light the others.

“The menorah, for me personally, goodness, mercy and warmth always wins in the end,” said Rabbi Chesky Vogel of Missoula’s Chabad Jewish Center, who requested the outdoor display at the county courthouse.

“There’s a lot of emotional isolation in being Jewish here at a time like this,” said Rabbi Vogel, who worried that some might interpret the scene as political. Disagree with Slotnick. The menorah, Rabbi Vogel said, does not signify support for Israel.

Another leader of the small Jewish community, however, counseled prudence. Laurie Franklin, rabbi emerita of Har Shalom in Missoula, said, “Commissioners are being asked to make a decision very quickly about doing something on public property. It has a terrible subtlety. “

Finally, the authorities He decided to keep things as they were, with a menorah inside the courthouse rotunda but not on the lawn. Rabbi Vogel said he hopes to change their minds in the future.

Rabbi Franklin said he will continue to admire the menorah outside his synagogue and the smaller one at home.

“Jews are not a homogenous community,” he said. “Not everyone necessarily has the same political views. We don’t necessarily have the same view on the conflict in Israel and Gaza. But lighting the menorah is a beautiful act of integration.

Campbell Robertson And Emily Schmall Contributed report. Susan Beachy Research contributed.

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