Hanukkah Feels Different This Year

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Hanukkah barettes

In this time of news stories that cover the prevalence of anti-Semitism, we as Jews respond with sadness, tinged with a bit of fear. For those of us in interfaith families, it can be especially difficult to express the Jewish pieces of our family fabric outwardly.

This is the time of year when most people are getting into the holiday spirit, but I’m having a hard time with it this year. I’m usually excited about my 4-year-old daughter’s excitement for Hanukkah, but this year anyway, when we’re out in public, I find myself scanning the people within earshot for hateful eyes and any signs of danger as she talks about lighting the menorah or eating yummy latkes and sufganiyot. I’m nervous about attending Jewish programing and bringing my husband who isn’t Jewish into our out-of-the-house observance because he could easily just stick with his family’s Christmas traditions and not be put at any risk. He doesn’t make me feel this way, but I do feel like it’s asking a lot of him to tag along right now, when our Jewish identity doesn’t belong to him as an individual.

My Massachusetts-based family has not been directly impacted by recent events, but these events could have happened anywhere, including my own community. It has been weighing heavily on me lately that even though there has been no horrific story to report here, it is possible that there are people in my own community who have and could act on anti-Semitic thoughts.

The thought has crossed my mind that maybe we should just keep Hanukkah to ourselves this year, while sticking with our normal Christmas traditions. However, we have a very vocal little girl and I don’t want to rob her of the joy that being Jewish brings her. She doesn’t know yet that it’s a particularly scary time to be Jewish. Judaism, to her, is a feeling of home, of love, of joy and of peace. Those words are the theme of the season. That’s the way it should be all the time, right? That’s what we need more of right now, and so I’m not going to quiet her down or ask her to change out of her dinosaur Hanukkah shirt when we leave the house. I’m going to let my little girl have a happy Hanukkah and maybe the joy that she shares in it will make some change in the next generation’s perception of Judaism. I have to hold on to that hope anyway.

This time that we live in is so consistent with the history of the Jewish people and with the story of Hanukkah itself. We get pushed back and we shine our light through the hard times. Here’s to letting our Hanukkah lights shine extra bright this year, to show the world around us that we hold on to hope that we may one day live in a world rid of hate and filled with love and peace. May this holiday season be joyful for all and may Hanukkah hold some extra meaning to those who choose to embrace it this year.

Toy menorah

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About Sarah Rizzo

Sarah Rizzo lives in Southeastern Massachusetts with her husband and their two young children: a preschool aged daughter and toddler son. She stays at home with her children and runs a bump through baby photography business. When she's not busy chasing after her kids or working on photos, she enjoys writing, baking, crafting, and reading.