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‘All about light overcoming darkness’: How US Jews are celebrating Hanukkah with Israel at war

(JTA) — When tickets for Los Angeles’ Infinite Light Festival went on sale in October, just a week after Hamas’ brutal attack on Israel, sales were brisk. In fact, tickets sold out to the annual Hanukkah celebration held by the local Jewish federation’s young adult division, NuRoots, faster than in any other year.

“I truly believe that that’s because people are just craving to be in community, to celebrate, to be given permission to have a sense of joy, and to show up and have fun,” Chelsea Synder, vice president of NuRoots Community, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Joy has felt hard to come by in Jewish communities since Oct. 7, as grief, fear and anxiety have been the prevailing emotions in the wake of the attack, Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza and a global explosion of antisemitism. Yet the arrival of Hanukkah — the first holiday since Simchat Torah, the date of the assault — has required Jews and their communities to figure out how to balance sadness and celebration.

For many, the symbolism of Hanukkah offers a handy way to thread the needle.

“It’s a difficult time, but Hanukkah is all about light overcoming darkness,” said Rabbi Aryeh Kaltmann, a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Columbus, Ohio.

Hanukkah is a major event for Chabad, which is known for its public displays of Jewish practice surrounding holidays. The movement’s rabbis organized what it said were more than 15,000 public menorah lightings last year, including what its teen network said was the first-ever Hanukkah candle lighting at an NFL “Sunday Night Football” game.

Kaltmann has put together an expansive program called “Eight Nights of Fun” that includes someone dressed as Judah Maccabee skydiving from an airplane to light a menorah, a cannon shooting edible dreidels, a menorah lighting at a Columbus Blue Jackets NHL game and more. The over-the-top agenda was by design.

“The more we could do to bring out celebration and unity between Jewish kids and the community, the better,” Kaltmann said.

“Although it’s hard to celebrate Hanukkah when we know that there are brothers and sisters who are in prison for no crime of their own, just because they happen to be Jewish… we can ignite hope and love and a sense of camaraderie,” he added, referring to the 138 people still held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. “When we do a good deed, that joy and that celebration can make a difference for our brothers and sisters in Israel.”

While Kaltmann’s plans are a turbocharged version of what he does every year, the war has given rise to a new set of just-for-wartime Hanukkah plans as well. A fundraising campaign called “Light of Strength” aims to raise $3.5 million to send Hanukkah gift cards to 75,000 Israeli children who have been displaced from their homes.

“When we think of Hanukkah, we think of the lights of Hanukkah, right? Bringing light into the darkness,” said Tali Reiner Brodetzki, an Israeli who lives in Pennsylvania and is leading the campaign. “A lot of the Hanukkah songs are about this: getting rid of the darkness, bringing light and joy. And this is what it’s all about — bringing light and joy to these kids’ lives.”

Young Jews celebrate Shabbat during the 2022 Infinite Light Hanukkah festival in Los Angeles. (Courtesy of NuRoots)

In New York, UJA-Federation is hosting a handful of Hanukkah events that also draw a direct connection to the war. Its Dec. 7 “Evening of Music and Light” is a benefit concert for Israel, while the event page for its Dec. 12 candle lighting reads: “With our focus on the war in Israel and the rise in antisemitism, most of us are seeking the comfort of our community and a reprieve from the alarming headlines.”

Those alarming headlines have included a spike in reported antisemitic incidents that have some Jews wary of showcasing their Jewish identity in public — a key requirement of the holiday. Adam Kulbersh, an actor and father in Los Angeles, launched the “Project Menorah” initiative to encourage non-Jews to display menorahs in their windows out of solidarity.

“We’re in a time of awful antisemitism, historic levels,” Kulbersh told JTA. “I think the idea of inviting our non-Jewish allies to add their light to ours in a time of darkness has really moved people.”

Some Jews who oppose the war are using the holiday to call attention to their cause. A group called Rabbis for Ceasefire is holding a Hanukkah candle-lighting in New York City on the first night of the holiday, for example.

But even as war and loss have reshaped some Hanukkah events, many others are proceeding largely along the same lines as they have in the past — with raucous fun layered upon a history that has included struggle and overcoming great odds.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, the local Chabad is hosting “Unite with Light: A Jewish Solidarity Chanukah Concert” with American-Israeli singer Nissim Black. The Bronx Jewish Center is also holding a Hanukkah concert with the Jewish a capella group The Maccabeats. The Chicago Loop Synagogue will put on a performance of “Hershel & the Hanukkah Goblins,” a story about a man who outsmarts a procession of goblins and saves the holiday for one shtetl.

And in Los Angeles, where NuRoots has planned a full slate of events to engage young Jews during the holiday — including L.A.’s sizable Israeli population — Snyder said the focus is on bringing the community together during “our darkest moments,” as the event page puts it.

“Hanukkah is the symbol of hope,” she said. “I think all of us can really lean into what hope means for us, regardless of how you affiliate yourself politically. I think the world is hard. And I think that hope and light and this idea of celebrating and coming back to joy, and donuts and latkes, it makes us connected on a level that’s deeper than ourselves.”

The post ‘All about light overcoming darkness’: How US Jews are celebrating Hanukkah with Israel at war appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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The Red Cross Has Abandoned Israeli Hostages and Its Pretense of Neutrality

A Red Cross vehicle, as part of a convoy believed to be carrying hostages abducted by Hamas terrorists during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, arrives at the Rafah border, amid a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel, as seen from southern Gaza, Nov. 24, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

The Red Cross has once again failed the Jewish people by choosing to appease its enemies rather than help those in need.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in its mission statement, claims to be “an impartial, neutral, and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance.”

The actions of the Red Cross since October 7, however, show that it does not consider the lives and dignity of all victims to be equal. Instead, the Red Cross has fallen in line with those who refuse to condemn Hamas and ignore the atrocities perpetrated against Israelis.

This isn’t the first time that the Red Cross has ignored the suffering of Jewish people to avoid offending those who seek to eliminate the Jewish people. The Red Cross has received three Nobel Peace Prizes, including one in 1944 for its services in World War II, but decades later, we know the whole truth.

Documents released after the war revealed that the Red Cross was well aware of the Nazis’ genocide of the Jews and chose to remain silent. The Red Cross defended itself by claiming that if it had disclosed what it knew, “it would have lost its ability to inspect prisoner-of-war camps on both sides of the front.” Although the Red Cross has apologized for its inaction in confronting the Holocaust, the bias the ICRC has shown against Israel makes that apology ring hollow.

Magen David Adom, Israel’s official emergency service, was founded in 1930 and ratified as a National Red Cross Society by the Knesset in 1950. However, the Red Cross refused to allow Magen David Adom entry to the international organization because the latter wanted to use the Star of David as its symbol in place of a red cross.  Even though Muslim Red Cross organizations use a red crescent as their symbol, Israel is singled out for refusal.  Only after 76 years of life-saving work was Magen David Adom finally accepted by the ICRC in 2006.

The Red Cross has conducted itself similarly since Hamas took Israeli hostages. The Red Cross gained much acclaim for bringing Israeli hostages home after they were released. However, the Red Cross played no part in the negotiations that led to the release, and made no effort to visit the hostages while they were imprisoned.

This is in stark contrast to past hostage crises. During the Iranian hostage crisis, the Red Cross visited the occupied US embassy in Tehran. When 72 Japanese hostages were kidnapped by guerrilla forces in Peru in 1996, the Red Cross provided food and medical assistance. When New York Times reporter David Rohde was held by the Taliban in 2008, the Red Cross delivered him a letter from his wife. When more than 240 hostages were taken from Israel, however, the Red Cross did nothing.

The Red Cross responded to a recent lawsuit filed by Israeli hostages, which claims that the Red Cross neglected its duty to visit prisoners of war, by saying: “The more public pressure we seemingly would do, the more they [Hamas] would shut the door.”

The evidence shows that the Red Cross did not try very hard. UN Watch compiled a report showing that the ICRC’s social media posts were heavily biased in favor of Hamas, and refused to acknowledge Hamas’ atrocities and the plight of the Israeli hostages.

When families of the hostages asked the Red Cross to deliver life-saving medications to their family members in captivity, they were scolded and told to “think about the Palestinian side.” by the ICRC.

Since the beginning of the current war, the Red Cross has pumped millions of dollars into Gaza, along with supplies, infrastructure, and medical teams. Hamas, of course, has a long history of shamelessly stealing money and supplies that were intended for civilians, a fact that the ICRC knows, and, unsurprisingly, Hamas has continued to do so during this current war.

The Red Cross has both the leverage and the stature to gain access to the Israeli hostages and even to push for their release. They were even able to leverage the Taliban into granting access to hostages in the past. People listen to the Red Cross. But they also hear the Red Cross’ silence.

When the Red Cross speaks about the Israel-Hamas conflict without mentioning Hamas’ attacks, and its president meets with Hamas’ leader but does not advocate for Israeli hostages, the message is clear.

The Red Cross’ historical and current actions seem to suggest that it does not value Israeli lives as much as other people’s. It is time for the international community to ask the Red Cross why it looks out for all of those in need, except for Jews.

Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum and a former official in the Israeli Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense.

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The Media Is Still Swallowing Hamas’ Lies About Israel

A supporter of Hamas demonstrates outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Photo: Reuters/Piroschka van de Wouw

While Israel is winning its war to eliminate the existential threat posed by Hamas’ massive tunnel complex/fortress in Gaza, Israel is losing the propaganda battle against a pro-Palestinian narrative demonizing Israel’s conduct of the war. That narrative puts aside Hamas’ horrific crimes against humanity that triggered Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip, and adopts an account that Israel is “indiscriminately killing” Gazans as part of a “genocidal” campaign.

Hamas displays emotional images of Gazans massed in crowded hospital wards, or combing ruins for lost loved ones, and then proclaims to the world that there have been more than 25,000 innocent victims of Israel’s invidious conduct.

To begin with, there is no way to verify any of those numbers, or to tell who among the actual numbers killed are innocent civilians, and who are associated with Hamas and other terror groups. (Remember the hospital bombing at the start of the war, where they claimed 500 casualties, but we later learned from US intelligence analysts that far fewer were killed, and the “attack” was the result of a misfired terrorist rocket).

Furthermore, the issue is not whether Gazans have experienced dreadful suffering. They clearly have. The issue is whom to blame.

Major media outlets have frequently adopted the portrayal of Israel’s conduct in the war as a wanton destruction of Gaza, and the purposeful targeting of civilians.

Unlike Hamas, however, Israel never intentionally targets civilians — nor does it aim for wanton destruction in Gaza.

Any fair assessment of Israel’s military behavior must account for Hamas’ decision to fight in civilian areas, and use civilians and civilian infrastructure as human shields. Hamas’ vast underground fortress is accessed through shafts in or near residential buildings and public structures. Hamas also stores weaponry in civilian structures, and launches rockets and mortars from populated areas.

Experts in urban warfare confirm that the IDF has taken considerable measures to avoid civilian casualties. John Spencer teaches urban warfare at West Point Military Academy. Spencer wrote in Newsweek last week that the IDF, “has implemented more measures to prevent civilian casualties than any other military in history.”  He marvels that the IDF has delayed scheduled assaults, furnished copious advance warnings, and provided designated civilian evacuation routes before attacks.

Colonel Richard Kemp is a former British infantry battalion commander with 30 years of experience, including rounds of urban combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kemp commends the IDF on its adherence to the laws of armed conflict — in its choice of munitions, proportionality in choosing targets according to strategic gain versus civilian risk, and advance warnings enabling civilians to evacuate. As to the leveling of civilian structures, Kemp points to the nature of Hamas’ current operations — fighters in civilian clothing moving on thoroughfares to collect weapons stashed in civilian buildings in order to carry out ambush attacks. The structures look abandoned, but may well be booby trapped or may house anti-armor weaponry.

Hamas regularly employs the stratagem of distorting and manipulating casualty figures to suit its narrative that Israel is maliciously and unjustifiably killing civilians. Hamas’ casualty counts are consistently inflated and do not distinguish between combatants and civilians. The intended implication is that only civilians have been targeted by the IDF. Mass media regularly buys into this Hamas stratagem by simply reciting Hamas’ asserted casualty figures and not mentioning when people killed are terrorists or affiliated with terror groups.

An article in the Feb. 12 New York Times by Patrick Kingsley and Hiba Yazbeck typifies the media’s willingness to slant reportage in favor of a pro-Hamas narrative. (“Israeli Raid in Rafiah Rescues 2 Hostages and Kills Dozens.”) The article was prompted by an IDF special forces raid into a Hamas stronghold, Rafah, in order to rescue two Israeli men, aged 60 and 70, who had been kidnapped on October 7 from their kibbutz and held captive for 125 days. The Times report devotes no attention to the incredible sophistication of the rescue operation — the intelligence that pinpointed the locus of captivity, the daring dispatch of a special forces unit to the heart of Hamas’ Rafah, and a coordinated execution that extracted the hostages from their heavily armed Hamas captors without unnecessarily harming civilians.

The Times article’s first sentence mentions a rescue raid, and then promptly shifts to an accusation that Israel “launched a wave of attacks that killed dozens of Palestinians…” Like Hamas in its casualty reports, the article makes no distinction between combatant and civilian deaths. There’s no mention of the fact that many of those Palestinian deaths were Hamas combatants killed as the IDF burst in to rescue the hostages, and as the IDF escaped through armed resistance in the city.

The Kingsley/Yazbeck story also glosses over the Hamas war crimes that necessitated the IDF raid. Two-thirds of the way through the article, it notes in passing that the two freed hostages had been held in captivity for over 120 days (but the article does not note that they had been violently wrenched from their kibbutz homes along with their spouses who were later ransomed or that other family members were murdered on October 7). In short, the focus on “dozens of Palestinians killed” in the rescue mission is a parroting of Hamas propaganda that Israel is engaged in malicious killing of innocent Gazan civilians.

While experts like Spencer and Kemp credit Israel with commendable adherence to the norms of warfare, there have been some ostensible IDF deviations from those norms. An IDF spokesman has acknowledged that at least on one occasion, an excessively large bomb was employed that caused unnecessary civilian casualties. In another incident, Israelis were shocked and disturbed when an IDF unit killed 3 bare-chested men advancing toward the unit while waving a white flag. (The victims turned out to be Israeli hostages who had escaped from their Hamas captors). Another report exists of an Israeli soldier shooting and killing a captive Hamas fighter following an interrogation — a clear war crime if confirmed. These possible crimes are being probed by the IDF military police and, if documented, hopefully will be punished. Hamas, by contrast, proudly flaunts its most glaring war crimes by celebrating the intentional massacre of civilians, and by demanding the return of terrorist murderers in exchange for the remaining civilian hostages.

There is no equivalence between the two sides; but the media will never tell you that story.

Norman L. Cantor is Professor of Law Emeritus at Rutgers University Law School where he taught for 35 years. He also served as visiting professor at Columbia, Seton Hall, Tel Aviv University, and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published five books, scores of scholarly articles in law journals, and dozens of blog length commentaries in outlets like The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and The Algemeiner. His personal blog is He lives in Tel Aviv and in Hoboken, NJ. 

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On being a ‘garbage human being’: Phoebe Maltz Bovy checks in on the state of antisemitism discourse in February 2024

Two articles crossed my path last week, and I’ve been thinking of them in conjunction with each other. Not because they are the same sort of article (most certainly not), nor because I agree with them in equal measure (again, nope), but because they illustrated something about worldviews. The first was Dara Horn’s longread in […]

The post On being a ‘garbage human being’: Phoebe Maltz Bovy checks in on the state of antisemitism discourse in February 2024 appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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