I am typing with tears in my eyes, thinking about the anti-Semitic stabbing attack that wounded five Jews at a Hasidic rabbi’s home Saturday night during a Hanukkah party. The vicious assault in a heavily Jewish New York City suburb is unmistakable evidence of a painful new reality: the Jewish people – my people – are under attack in America.
So many Jewish holidays and other days are spent in sadness, with news of fresh new attacks here in the land where so many Jews – my family among them – came to escape religious persecution.
Hanukkah is a joyous holiday. There is nothing that I look forward to more each year than the eight days of Hanukkah and the festivities that come with it.
I’ve told the story of the “miracle of light” to my non-Jewish friends more times than I can count, usually while serving my brother’s favorite jelly donuts and my famous homemade latkes (potato pancakes). Hanukkah is a holiday I imagine myself celebrating with my future children, and a favorite time of year in many Jewish households around the world.
Unfortunately, this year our “festival of lights” was anything but.
In the New York City metropolitan area, where I live along with an estimated 1.5 million fellow Jews, we faced an anti-Semitic attack almost every day of Hanukkah.
The attacks included a 65-year-old man being punched and kicked by a man who yelled "f--- you, Jew,” a woman attacking a 34-year-old Jewish mother in front of her 3-year-old child, and the stabbing attack that injured five in Monsey, N.Y.
As New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch put it: "It seems like it's open season on Jews in New York City.”
Anyone who knows me knows how often I speak about my love for the United States of America. But this love did not start with me. It began two generations ago, with my grandparents back in the Soviet Union.
Growing up, I was told stories about my grandfather. Back in Russia, he would listen in secret to his favorite radio station – Voice of America – while muffling the radio with pillowcases to avoid getting caught in the forbidden activity.
My father often tells me how he sat with his friends in Russia and watched the 1980 Winter Olympics, cheering silently for the U.S. hockey team as it famously defeated the Soviets.
The United States was a beacon of light and hope for so many Jews around the world, including my family, long before they ever even made it here. The idea that one day they could feel free and safe to be proud Jews was one that my ancestors could only dream about.
One of the clear measures of the development of democracy in any country is the extent to which it protects its Jewish population.
The Jewish homeland of Israel was conquered by foreign powers in ancient times and most Jews were expelled from Israel by the Romans nearly 2,000 years ago. Since then and until the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 they’ve been a minority group scattered and often persecuted in nations around the world.
Space doesn’t permit listing all the persecutions of the Jews, which include the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290; the Spanish Inquisition followed by the expulsion of Jews from that county in 1492; pogroms in Russia; and of course the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis who ruled Germany from 1933 to 1945 and conquered much of Europe during World War II.
For centuries, even when Jews weren’t being killed or expelled they were denied the same civil rights as other minority groups. And even when they were officially granted those rights, their rights often weren’t honored.
There is a reason to believe that some of the Pilgrims who first set sail on their journey to what is now the United States looked to the story of the Israelites for inspiration. They were setting their sights on a haven where they could be safe to practice their religion free of persecution.
My grandfather used to attend synagogue services with his father in the Soviet Union, leaving his mother and my grandmother at home out of fear they would be attacked. It was those walks to the synagogue, praying to be kept safe and out of harm, where my grandfather would imagine a life in the United States.
A life without fears or worries about being attacked simply for being a Jew. A fear that many now must live with, decades later, here in the United States.
In the last year alone, Jewish Americans have been attacked in our places of worship, our kosher supermarkets, on the streets, and even at home. The America that my ancestors spoke about is crumbling in front of my very eyes.
The way that the United States has treated Jewish people should be a sense of pride not just for Jews, but for all Americans. The feeling of safety and security that America grants its citizens is the reason we are the greatest country in the world.
I wonder how much worse it can get in the country my parents once risked their lives to escape to, probably never imagining that one day their daughter would have to sit in the United States and worry about her safety.