As a child, our electric menorah sat upon our front windowsill for the month of December. I still remember driving up the hill to find those eight orange lights, shining brilliantly, as we approached our home. With festive decorations across every lawn, seeing the menorah’s light from outside filled me with warmth and made me feel like every other child during the holiday season.
Today, my own family keeps our electric menorah out of view, as I worry about the safety of advertising our Hanukkah celebration to the world; to the mailman, the FedEx delivery person, the politician making rounds, every neighbor and each car passing by. My children don’t know the feeling of arriving home on a winter night and finding the menorah, aglow, in the window. We drive down streets brimming with Christmas lights of every hue, wreaths wrapped in red and green ribbon, and lustrous ornaments hanging from evergreens. My boys gaze through the car window, in awe of the Christmas decorations that most children can admire from their sidewalk. Yet the outside of our home remains undecorated, because the less we show, the safer we feel.
We continuously awaken to news of violence directed at synagogues, celebrities making antisemitic comments, and hateful language making its way into our communities. Antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, and this unsettling atmosphere dilutes the spark of our holiday season.
With antisemitism in our midst, I’ve learned to accept that I must conceal my religion. Placing our menorah out of view is one way I keep our Judaism private. We never hung a mezuzah on our doorpost, as Jews traditionally do, for the same reason. In the Jewish community, we learn as children that we’re a minority. We’re told to hide our Star of David necklace and to be cautious when speaking of our culture. Many Jews experience antisemitism firsthand — in the American Jewish Committee’s 2021 State of Antisemitism report, 17% of American Jews said they had been the target of an antisemitic remark in person, while 12% said they had been the target of an antisemitic remark online.
As antisemitism rises from every direction and we’re made to feel fearful and unwelcome in our own communities, my family will celebrate Hanukkah differently this year. This December, we’ll decorate as if no one’s watching, sing as if no one’s listening, and live like we’re surrounded by peace — because that’s what I’m hoping for in the new year.
Parents want to prepare their children for the world around them, and as a mom, I know that it is important to have open discussions about acts of hatred. Mr. Roger’s famous quote, “Look for the helpers,” often comes to mind when I talk to my children about antisemitism. I remind them that the majority of people are kind, most neighbors care about one another, and more people are accepting of differences than not. I focus on our allies who speak out against antisemitism to highlight the overwhelming sense of community surrounding us.
This year, even though Hanukkah feels different, we’ll celebrate as we do every year. We’ll light our menorah for eight nights straight and watch as the flames dance back and forth in the air. We’ll sing the Hanukkah blessings and play dreidel as potato latkes sizzle on the stove. But one thing will be different: Beginning on Dec. 1, our electric menorah will shine, radiantly, from our front living room window just like it did when I was little. It will stand proudly upon our windowsill so our children can know the feeling of a decorated home on the inside and out. Because everyone deserves to celebrate a joyous holiday this year — and always.
On the first night of Hanukkah, my children will unwrap a gift that sets the tone for our new year: a mezuzah for each of them. A mezuzah serves as a symbol that this particular dwelling is a Jewish household. They’ll excitedly tear the wrapping paper off, sending slivers in every direction, just as they always do. And, as a family, we’ll hang them on our door post — for the first time — as a reminder that our Jewish household is everlasting. We’ll show our children that hate has no place in our home, in our community or in our world. These mezuzahs will serve as a reminder to always be a friend and a helper to those in need, a lesson I reiterate to my children due to my own experience with antisemitism. This holiday season, we will celebrate openly like the rest of the world, in hopes that peace can find its way through the darkness.
And all the while, our electric menorah will shimmer in our front window for all to see. My children will finally know the feeling of pulling up to their home on a cool winter’s night to find the warmth of a menorah’s light shimmering inside and out.