On Thursday, December 7, Jews around the world will begin celebrating Hanukkah. Each night, we will light the candles placed in our hanukkiahs to remember yet another time in our history when Jews faced the possibility of annihilation. In 167 B.C.E. Judah Maccabee and his brothers led a revolt against Antiochus, the Seleucid king who had tried to eradicate their religion. This Jewish festival commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem and the subsequent rededication of the Second Temple

Now, 2190 years later, Jews are facing another enemy whose goal is to wipe Jews off the face of the earth. Israel is at war against Hamas. On October 7, 2023, thousands of members of the Gaza-based terrorist group poured over Israel’s borders killing over 1400 innocent men, women, and children, injuring 4000 more, and kidnapping over 200 people. Israel immediately and rightfully responded by declaring war and later sending troops into Gaza. As a Jew and a human being. I am sad, afraid, angry and grieving for all the lives lost during this conflict. As I light candles over the holiday’s eight days,  I will have the following eight thoughts.

  1. Israel’s right to defend itself. I stand with Israel. Absolutely. I am saddened by the pain and suffering on both sides. But Israel did not start this war. And the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), like the Maccabees, must fight with every ounce of their strength to root out the evil that is Hamas.
  2. Antisemitism’s Rise: Never again is now. The rise of antisemitism around the around the world is terrifying and it is hitting too close to home. Who would have thought that a former president would be hosting avowed antisemites in his Florida estate? Who would have ever thought that neo-Nazis would be marching outside the gates of Disney? Who would have thought that our small synagogue would have to hire a security guard so that we can attend services without fear of being mowed down like the members of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life? On October 16, 2023, a group of individuals met with Congressman Darrin Soto. Initially scheduled to address concerns about the rise of antisemitism in Florida, the meeting took on greater urgency after the October 7 massacre. Rep. Soto opened the meeting by pledging his support for Israel and the Jewish community. “I have your back,” he told us. After a brief introduction where he listed legislation he supported, he turned the meeting over to his constituents. The group discussed a wide range of subjects: the need for security at synagogues and other Jewish venues; the tidal wave of misinformation, the bullying of Jewish students at local campuses, and the importance of government officials, businesses, and colleges to speak out clearly against antisemitism in any form. As the war continues, I will continue to be in touch with my representatives on the state and national level to encourage their support of Israel.
  3. Jewish Pride-Despite my fears, I am still proud to be a Jew. For many years, I have worn a butterfly charm on a necklace, which represents to me the souls of the six million who died in the Holocaust.  Soon after the war began, I dug out my Jewish star and added it to my necklace. I know around the world Jews are shedding yarmulkas, but I have decided to display my connection to Judaism with pride and resolve.
  4. Community-During this terrible time, attending services at our small synagogue in Central Florida  has become even more important to me. Judaism stresses again and again the need for community, coming together in person to pray, to sing, to talk. At times, I feel that it is Jews against the world, and I love being in a room where I am not alone in my fears, my grief, and my support. I find comfort in so many of the prayer, a number of which I am reading with different eyes since October 7.
  5. Writing. I am grateful I have another way to build connections as a Jew. I will use my writing to bear witness to moments of Jewish sacrifice, survival, and strength. In 2017, I had the honour of interviewing Harry Lowenstein, a Holocaust survivor who founded our synagogue. After its publication, I realised the importance of writing down as many stories as I could of individuals who had been witnesses to antisemitism from their flight from their Eastern European shtetls to their often miraculous survival during the Holocaust to the accounts of Jews and non-Jews who have worked against hatred in all forms. My writing—and life—has found a purpose: To make sure these stories are not forgotten.
  6. Donations. Of course, Israel needs more than hopes and prayers and words. The country is in desperate need of funds to counteract the effects of this war on its economy and its citizens. I made a donation to Hadassah Hospital in the first days of the war. Since that time, I have learned of other Israeli agencies that would benefit from financial support. Those include, Magen David Adom (MDA) – Israel’s national emergency medical response organization, and Leket Israel, the country’s largest food bank. More suggestions can be found on this website: https://www.jpost.com/special-content/donate-to-israel-now-top-21-charities-making-a-difference-in-israel-in-2023-771512
  7. Emotional Support. I appreciate the support of my non-Jewish friends and will carry their kindness forward. In the days immediately following the massacre, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of expressions of sadness, shock, and anger, and sorrow for me, Israel, and Jews around the world. “My heart is broken in two,” wrote Ginny Campbell, my fellow writer, with her usual eloquence. “We all share one God. I can only believe His heart is broken too. Know my prayers are with you and all our brothers and sisters who are grieving tonight. Love can and must win out in the end.”
  8. Joy and Hope: Following the lead of Israelis who have suffered such great loss, I will find joy and hope for the future. On October 20, Yonaton Perez and Galya Landau were married, despite the fact that the groom had suffered a leg wound during the October 7 Hamas attack and his brother had been declared missing. “We are part of a people that sanctifies life,” Rabbi Doron Perez, Yonaton’s father, was quoted in a Times of Israel. “[The future] will be a new dawn and a much better time for the Jewish people”

“I am a Jew because at every time when despair cries out, the Jew hopes,” reads a prayer from the Reform prayerbook Mishkan T’Filah. As I write this, the Israel-Hamas War is in Day 44. Only time will tell what will happen in the future. Over eight evenings, our family will light our colourful Hanukkah candles in a darkened room. In their beautiful glow, we will recite the traditional prayers. This year, however, we will add the Mi Sheberach, a prayer for physical and emotional healing for all human beings facing illness and pain. Then we will sing the words of Oseh Shalom, May the one who creates peace on high bring peace to us and to all Israel.” And we say: Amen. Peace, salaam, shalom, שָׁלוֹם.

Article by Author/s
Marilyn Shapiro
Marilyn Cohen Shapiro, a resident of Kissimmee, FL, is a regular contributor to the (Capital Region NY) Jewish World and the Orlando Heritage Florida Jewish News. She is the author of two compilation of her stories, There Goes My Heart (2016) and Tikkun Olam: Stories of Repairing an Unkind World. (2018). Both books available in paperback and e-book format on Amazon. You can read more of her stories on her blog, theregoesmyheart.me.

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