Jewish Atlanta stood united on the last night of Chanukah, a day after five people were stabbed at a holiday gathering at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, N.Y. The latest in a series of anti-Semitic attacks in New York and New Jersey cast a heavy shadow over at least one of Atlanta’s Chanukah menorah lighting ceremonies Sunday.
Rabbi Adam Starr of Congregation Ohr HaTorah, formerly Young Israel of Toco Hills, was inspired to organize an impromptu public menorah lighting in the community on the last night of Chanukah after people expressed fear to him about displaying their menorot following the stabbings at the holiday celebration in Monsey.
On Sunday afternoon, Starr reached out to his rabbinic colleagues and Atlanta Jewish leaders and posted on social media the menorah lighting intended to express “solidarity with Jews around the world.”
He told the AJT, “Our response was that we needed to be Jewish in a public space and proud, and not let anti-Semitism win. We needed to be out there on the last night of Chanukah to unite and light, be heard and be proud.”
Starr said it’s “terrible any time someone is attacked because they are Jewish” and “when a Jew is attacked, we are all under attack.” While those gathered Sunday said a prayer for those injured in the Monsey attack, the goal of the event was to show a “joyous Judaism. We can’t allow them to defeat us.” He said enemies have tried to destroy Jews for thousands of years, dating further back than the Chanukah story. “The light of the Torah and tradition always pushes them away.”
Eric Robbins, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, had just returned from celebrating the holiday in Jamaica, even lighting the menorah in a remote beach with a small Jewish community there, when he heard about the spontaneous lighting ceremony Sunday at the Toco Hills Shopping Center.
The public show of solidarity following the stabbings in Monsey attracted about 300 from the surrounding Toco Hills Orthodox community and beyond. “This is not what Chanukah is supposed to be about,” Robbins said. Still, he hoped the Toco Hills gathering demonstrated the power of turning darkness into light.
The attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey was the latest in a surge in anti-Semitic violence in that area, known for its ultra-Orthodox population, along with Brooklyn and New Jersey, especially over the past few weeks.
“It’s obviously overwhelming and incredibly disturbing and distracting,” Robbins said of the Monsey incident and other violence. “What seemed like isolated incidents is now an epidemic of anti-Semitism.”
Robbins, like others who monitor hate crimes in Atlanta, told the AJT the incidents shouldn’t make Jews afraid, but proud. “We can’t go into hiding. We have to be vigilant and stand up and show strength, … to show how wonderful it is to be a Jew in the 21st century.”
Dov Wilker, regional director of the AJC Atlanta, echoed those sentiments. He pointed to a major AJC study released in October that showed that about 30 percent of American Jews hid their Jewish identity and about 25 percent were afraid to attend Jewish events because of concerns about safety. In that study, 88 percent of those surveyed said anti-Semitism was a problem in the U.S. and 38 percent believed it a very serious problem.
“I think the entire Jewish community is on edge and up in arms” about the recent violence, Wilker said. “If anything, it reinforces that anti-Semitism is a terrible virus that must be stopped with everything we’ve got. It’s not limited to New York. It is destroying minds in the United States and all around the world.”
Hate also isn’t limited to the Jewish community, he said, citing a church shooting Sunday in Texas. When these incidents occur, it’s comforting to see the outpouring of support from the larger community, Wilker said. “We are not in this fight alone.”
He said education is a key component to that effort.
Allison Padilla-Goodman, ADL’s Southeast regional director, agreed. After a recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Brooklyn, ADL doubled funding last month for its “No Place for Hate” education in Brooklyn schools, she said.
Of the recent violence, she added, “The ADL is just horrified by what happened in Monsey. This is just outrageous, frightening and incredibly sad.” The ADL was at the Monsey rabbi’s home after the incident and has dedicated more staff to Monsey since.
The organization also is calling on law enforcement to increase protection and attention to the area, she said. “The last couple of months have been really shocking and disturbing.”
Although the Southeast hasn’t seen the violence of New York and New Jersey, “that does not mean we live on an island,” she said.
The ADL began a partnership this year with Jewish Federations of North America and the Secure Community Network to ensure communities and synagogues are safe. In terms of future plans for safety here in response to the violence in the North, she said, “We are still assessing what the threat is and what is needed.”
Robbins said, “I think everyone will button up their security even more. The fear factor will go up. I just hope everyone finds comfort in the community they are a part of,” he said. “Most people in the world share our loss even if they are not Jewish. A small group of people are doing these. This isn’t most people.”
- Breaking News
- Chanukah menorah lighting
- Congregation Ohr HaTorah
- Young Israel of Toco Hills
- rabbi adam starr
- Eric Robbins
- jewish federation of greater atlanta
- Dov Wilker
- AJC Atlanta
- Allison Padilla-Goodman
- Anti-Defamation League
- Monsey Stabbing
- Hannukah Stabbing
- Atlanta Orthodox Community