Milwaukee Jewish organizations celebrate Hanukkah with common goal of curbing antisemitism
Local Jewish organizations are marking the beginning of Hanukkah in different ways but with a shared purpose. That's to stand up to the antisemitism that's been rising and ask others to stand up too.
Miryam Rosenzweig is a grandchild of Holocaust survivors who came to the U.S. to escape the horrors of Europe in the 1930s and early 1940s.
"And we're looking for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I never imagined we would be talking about not only the rise of antisemitism but the safety and security of the Jewish community in America," Rosenzweig tells WUWM.
Rosenzweig is President and CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. That organization says reported anti-Semitic incidents increased more than 400% in Wisconsin from 2015 to 2021.
Rosenzweig says incidents among Wisconsin high school and middle school students went up 80% from 2020 to 2021.
"They're not born antisemitic. They're not born hateful of other cultures. But, they must be hearing [it] in their homes, on social media. We know that even in Gang room chats, there's just an incredible deluge of antisemitic rhetoric happening," Rosenzweig says.
To shine a light on the dangers of antisemitism, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, during the eight nights of Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, will light the Hoan Bridge, one pillar at a time. It'll represent the eight candles of the Hanukkah menorah, which commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple after the Jews reclaimed it from the Syrian Greeks about 2,000 years ago. A small amount of oil, enough for one day, instead lit the temple for eight.
Also this week, Rosenzweig says local civic and faith leaders will share video messages on the Federation website about the rise in antisemitism and hate speech in other communities. She says antisemitism is the canary in the coal mine.
"Because when you see the rise of antisemitism, it means that you're also seeing the rise of hate speech and targeting of other minority communities at the same time. So, we hope to shine a light on all of that," Rosenzweig says.
Milwaukee Congresswoman Gwen Moore, County Executive David Crowley, Darryl Morin of Forward Latino and Ahmed Quereshi of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee and Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee are among those who have recorded messages.
As Hanukkah began Sunday night, Lubavitch of Wisconsin took another approach to highlight antisemitism and the hope that it would end.
Max Schwartz of the Milwaukee Community Hebrew School offered a blessing at Lubavitch's annual Hanukkah festival at Bayshore shopping center.
There was also a concert, a deejay, and a Gelt drop—chocolate coins dropped from an extended fire truck ladder.
Event organizer Mushka Lein says along with the fun, is a message.
"We're feeling like people are being scared or pressured about being Jewish, and the message of Hanukkah is really freedom to practice your religion in a way that you feel comfortable. And so, this is important to spread to the entire community—Jewish and not Jewish."
Jonathan Gelfman is Jewish. He says he doesn't believe he's been the target of antisemitism. But he says he follows it on the news, which gets him down. Gelfman says celebrating Hanukkah as a child was great; doing so now helps his mood.
"Teaching my kids the same holiday of perseverance, and the miracle of how the oil lasted for x-amount of time and the perseverance of Jews through adversity. So, it's important," he says.
The lessons of Hanukkah continue for seven more days and nights.