Menorah on the Roof: What will 2020 bring

A few weeks ago, Noam and I decided to introduce our kids to the movie Fiddler on the Roof. They were excited to sing along to some already-familiar songs like "Matchmaker" and "Tradition," and thought the wedding scene was beautiful. However, I had forgotten just how dark the end of the movie is. As we watched the Jews being expelled from their village of Anatevka, trudging down the road together, and pausing at the crossroads before going their own separate ways, my 10-year-old asked whether something like that could ever happen to us here in America.

A few weeks ago, Noam and I decided to introduce our kids to the movie Fiddler on the Roof. They were excited to sing along to some already-familiar songs like "Matchmaker" and "Tradition," and thought the wedding scene was beautiful. However, I had forgotten just how dark the end of the movie is. As we watched the Jews being expelled from their village of Anatevka, trudging down the road together, and pausing at the crossroads before going their own separate ways, my 10-year-old asked whether something like that could ever happen to us here in America.

Perhaps that question -- which hung in the air without a totally satisfactory answer -- was the reason that on the first night of Chanukah (which we celebrated at our home here in Seattle), my 7-year-old begged that we NOT place our menorah in the window this year.

This Chanukah has been a frightening one. To be sure, it's been fun seeing photos of so many members of our community celebrating with candle-lighting, latkes and sufganiyot, and even kitschy Chanukah sweaters! But, this past week has also been marred by a string of violent assaults on American Jews... most of which have taken place in and around New York (the largest Jewish community in the world outside of Israel) and many of which have targeted ultra-Orthodox Jews (those most visibly Jewish). This spree of violence has been building over a number of years, and now feels like it's coming from many directions at once, which is both confusing and terrifying.

We know from history that when fear and hatred are fueled by the powerful for political gain -- something we're certainly witnessing in both our country and others right now -- Jews are inevitably targeted. And, Jews have famously been called "the canary in the coal mine"... meaning that whenever Jews are targeted within a society, it's a sign that the moral backbone of that society is itself in grave danger.

In the face of all this, I'll admit that I have conflicting impulses. Part of me knows that we must channel the bravery of the Maccabees, standing up to those who would do us harm; another part of me wants to hide or flee (really, whatever it takes to stay safe). As our friends at Ikar wrote this week: "Tradition teaches that we should place our candles in the window, in order to publicize the miracle of our survival. However, we are also taught that, in times of danger, we can light the menorah on a table in the house. Those two legal options represent a tension..."

When Sholem Aleichem's Tevye stories were first adapted for the American stage (Fiddler opened on Broadway in 1964), America represented the contrast to the old country and the counter-point to Anatevka... the audience is meant to feel good about the future of those characters who are heading to this gleaming promised land in the final scene. Re-watching the movie today, though, I find myself relating more than ever before to the fiddler on the roof himself, the narrator who explains that Jewish life is a precarious balancing act. It's hard for me to answer my kids' questions with the same certainty I might have had only a few years ago... I think we are safe here in America, but who really knows.  What I am certain about is that we must do everything in our power to stand against hatred, tyranny and violence. This will mean banding together with each other, and with allies in this fight.

Indeed, we cannot do this work alone -- and I am proud to have signed on to a community statement on behalf of Kavana, together with Jewish communal leaders and elected officials from across Seattle. Please click here to read the complete statement -- entitled "How Do We React in the Face of Hate" -- and to find additional resources for education and action. Some of you have also been in touch recently with heart-warming stories of solidarity, coalition-building, and the like... please continue sharing these, as they help keep morale up and fuel the work in positive ways.

As this Chanukah and 2019 both draw to a close, I am left wondering where we will be in a year. Needless to say, it feels like so much hangs in the balance in 2020! Here at Kavana, we will do all we can to tip things in positive directions: deepen relationships with each other and forge cross-community partnerships, create sacred spaces in which we can hold each other safe and accountable, teach positive values based on our Jewish tradition, and put those values into action in the world. By next Chanukah, I am hopeful that we will have turned the tide significantly, such that my then-8-year-old will feel totally comfortable placing the menorah in our front window and proclaiming our Jewishness -- and the miracle of the light it brings -- to all who pass by.