After a promising start, 2021 careened down a gloomy path. Some of us dealt with more grief, more hardship through another year of pandemic. Some of us wrestled with fear and heartbreak after reminders that fellow Americans hate us simply because of what we look like or how we worship.
That fear is growing among Jews. In October, firefighters put out a blaze at an Austin synagogue that arson investigators think was set intentionally. Earlier in the year, a neo-Nazi group distributed recruitment flyers in Abilene and Midland neighborhoods. Last fall, someone scrawled swastikas on a Dallas parking garage, along with the words, “Rise up! We are everywhere.”
This Hanukkah season, during the Festival of Lights, Jewish communities across the U.S. are turning on their cameras and spreading their own message: We are here, our friends are here, and we will stand up to hate.
It’s a message all of us should embrace, regardless of whether we’re Jewish. The venom that fuels white supremacists is rarely reserved for one group. That hate is toxic to everyone it touches.
A coalition of 60 Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council, or JCRC, is spearheading a social media campaign to shine a light on antisemitism. The groups are inviting everyone to take a selfie with a flashlight or a candle and post it on social media anytime during Hanukkah with the hashtag #ShineALight.
Dallas is one of eight cities chosen by campaign organizers to spotlight the national initiative with a day dedicated to the theme. Selfie stations will be set up Thursday at the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center and NorthPark Center.
The selfies themselves are symbolic, but we hope they have the effect intended by the campaign organizers. The idea is that as these selfies pop up on our screens and populate our news feeds, we will pause to think about antisemitism and other forms of intolerance, and we will be inspired to confront it.
“We are hoping that all people will come together to focus attention on the increase in antisemitism nationally and internationally and demonstrate the importance of dispelling the darkness and hate,” said Anita Zusman Eddy, executive director of JCRC.
According to the FBI, more than half of all hate crimes motivated by religion in 2020 targeted Jews, even though Jews make up only 2% of the U.S. population. A recent survey by the American Jewish Committee found that 4 in 10 Jews reported changing their behavior that would identify them as Jewish out of fear for their safety.
The hate that so many fear was on display at a federal civil trial against the organizers of the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist rally. Some defendants used the trial to spew racist drivel and brag about their performance. They were ultimately ordered last week to pay more than $25 million to people who were injured at the rally.
Neo-Nazis may be all around us, but our country is the domain of kind and decent people. We must let the extremists know that our numbers are greater, that this is our turf and they are not welcome here.