Hanukkah is the time to douse the flame of rising anti-Semitism. This is why | Opinion

This week, Jews worldwide ushered in the holiday of Hanukkah. For eight nights, we will light the menorah, eat potato pancakes, exchange gifts and play dreidel. But the far more significant commemoration is the triumph against those who sought to destroy the Jewish faith and tradition. Unfortunately, that message needs to be heeded closely by American Jews, who have witnessed a drastic rise in antisemitism over the past year.

Over the last year, antisemitic incidents have risen exponentially. As recently as last month, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray identified that 63% of reported hate crimes in the U.S. involving religion were motivated by anti-Semitism. That number fails to account for crimes committed in the jurisdictions of nearly 40% of the country’s police departments.

In just the last few months, we have been verbally attacked by celebrities and people on the street but also on social media. It has become ordinary to see Tik Tokers using their posts to espouse hate against Jews. Even more troubling, perhaps is the emboldening of Holocaust deniers. Their words have been weaponized and almost every week, a Jewish community around the United States has left on edge because of an antisemitic attack that was either foiled by law enforcement in its latter stages, or one that was already committed.

The celebration of Hanukkah commemorates the triumph of Jewish resistance against the Greeks of more than 2,100 years ago who wanted to eradicate their culture completely, forcing them to abandon and replace their sacred traditions with the more socially preferred Greek way of life. The Greeks of the second century BCE sacked and desecrated the holy Jewish Temple, the center of Jewish civilization, and outlawed the practicing of all Jewish traditions and learning.

So, what happened? Against all odds a small group of poorly armed Jews led by the High Priest Matisyahu and dubbed the Maccabi’s, prevailed against the world’s most powerful army, reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem, and performed their ancient Jewish custom of lighting the menorah, using a day’s worth of oil discarded during the ransacking, and somehow that little bit of oil was able to light the Temple for eight days until new oil could be pressed, purified and brought to Jerusalem. Despite all of the odds stacked against them, the story of the few overcoming the many, the weak over the strong, has inspired generations of Jews to come.

'We need allies':What Jewish leaders want you to do about rising antisemitism

More than two millennia have passed and Hanukkah has taken such a prominent position in Jewish history and culture. Since the original Hanukkah itself, Jews have kept the traditions of the holiday, both during times of happiness and times of uncertainty filled with institutionalized and rampant antisemitism, even sometimes at similar levels to that of the Ancient Greeks within the story of the first Hanukkah. Even during times when the future of the Jewish people appeared bleak, lighting the menorah has facilitated the spreading of the light in celebration of past miracles and the continuity of our faith and culture. Over the eight-day celebration, we sing G-d’s praises for helping our ancestors triumph in the face of evil. Many eat fried foods to celebrate the miracle of the oil, and most of all, each night we light our menorahs in our windows at home, adding a candle for each night to publicize the miracles G-d performed on our ancestors’ behalf and celebrate our heritage.

It's for that reason that Hanukkah, more than any other holiday within the Jewish calendar, is focused on spreading the light, publicizing our celebration of the miracles, and on our ability to remain true to our beliefs and practice without falling victim to those forces seeking to destroy our culture.

So this year as I walk into Hanukkah — like generations of Jews before me, watching the growing tides of anti-Semitism, I’ll celebrate not only the miracle of the oil, but fuel my soul with the inspiration of knowing how far the Jewish people have come, and that we aren’t going anywhere.

Rabbi Benny Berlin is the rabbi of BACH Jewish Center in Long Beach, New York.

Rabbi Benny Berlin
Rabbi Benny Berlin

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Hanukkah is the time to fight anti-Semitism