Hanukkah 2023: Finding meaning in middle of troubled times

Hamas attack, antisemitic moments are bringing Jewish community together — but also creating sense of fear

At a time in which the Jewish community is under attack in so many different ways, Hanukkah — which begins Thursday night — takes on even more significance, two prominent Jewish leaders in the state said.

David Rosenberg, the head of the New Jersey Jewish Business Alliance, said the eight-day festival of lights is taking on a special meeting following the horrific Oct. 7 attacks in Israel and numerous examples of antisemitism since, including the shameful performance of the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Capitol Hill this week.

“It absolutely is more meaningful this year,” he said. “I think we’ll see many more Jews celebrate Hanukkah this year. The attack awakened the sense of Judaism out of many Jews. It’s been unifying the community.”

And frightening, too.

That’s the take of Rabbi Esther Reed of Rutgers Hillel.

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“Hanukkah is a holiday about being proud of who you are and to spread the story of the miracle of oil that lasted for eight days,” she said. “So, it’s a holiday about pride in your Jewish identity.

“But, this is a time when there are people who are afraid to be public about their Jewish identity, they’re afraid that they’re going to be attacked. There was already one Hanukkah candle lighting in the United States that was canceled by the municipality. For Jews, that’s horrible.”

The hostages that still are in captivity in the war with Hamas is troubling, Reed said.

“It’s hard to have a celebration when there are hostages still in captivity — they’re not going to be home with their families celebrating Hanukkah, unless a Hanukkah miracle happens in the next eight days,” she said. “So, that certainly tempers our joy. Thanksgiving was the same way.”