Bundled up in layers and gloves, I was taking my daily afternoon stroll in my cul-de-sac a few days after falling back to Eastern Standard Time, when I became dismayed by a sign of the coming winter: the sun was starting to set even though it was a few minutes before 3:30 p.m.
That’s when the haunting lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic, “The Sound of Silence,” popped into my head. Having an off-key voice, I didn’t want to scare my neighbors by singing out loud, and I’ve never mastered the art of humming.
But as I continued to sing the lyrics to myself, I couldn’t help but think of how meaningful the song remains nearly 60 years after it was first released – especially in what’s shaping up to be a particularly dark and bitter winter.
I’m not referring to how cold it’s liable to get because, not being a meteorologist, I have no idea, but rather to the current state of the world, especially with wars raging in the Middle East and Ukraine.
The lyrics from the song seem especially relevant as we face a Hanukkah full of strife and a lust for revenge, which has produced a disturbing excess of polarizing views that demand people choose a side, and then demonize the other one. That prevailing atmosphere, which encourages hatred above compassion, specifically recalls these lines from “The Sound of Silence”:
“Ten thousand people, maybe more; people talking without speaking; people hearing without listening; people writing songs that voices never share; no one dared disturb the sound of silence.”
The fact that so few people are listening to or reaching out to the other side threatens to transform this year’s Festival of Lights – normally a joyous occasion reuniting friends and family and welcoming strangers – into a Festival of Darkness.
Sadly, in the more than 2,100 years since the first Hanukkah was celebrated, in 164 B.C.E., much of the world’s population seems to relish hating Jews, and is looking for any reason to be antisemites.
No other conclusion can be drawn as antisemitic incidents have skyrocketed since the Oct. 7 carnage by Hamas, and that was before we started seeing daily pictures in the media of the destruction in the Gaza Strip as Israel has pursued its war on Hamas.
Israel has quickly lost the sympathy of the world, which it had for a nanosecond – and never had on far too many college campuses, where students and faculty were quick to blame Hamas’ massacre on Israel and Jews worldwide.
Hamas’ murderous rampage on Israeli civilians, women, children and babies – comparable to what the Nazis did to so many civilians during World War II – has been forgotten, and even worse, justified. It’s become yet another excuse to vilify American Jews and their brethren worldwide.
At the same time, whenever American Jews – horrified by the extent of the destruction in Gaza – express empathy for Palestinian civilians, they’re attacked as “traitors,” or worse, by their fellow Jews.
I wish I had some answers, but I don’t, and the worry is that antisemitism will get a whole lot worse before it subsides.
I’m saddened by the hatred, but not surprised, because over the years I’ve often dealt with antisemitism. Decades ago, subtle forms of racism or antisemitism weren’t referred to as “microaggressions,” but no matter how you label those incidents, I often experienced them, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was in my 20s and early 30s.
Back then, both my beard and hair had red highlights, and with my thick Boston accent, I was able to hide my Jewishness while working in Canada, Vermont and Florida. Only when I was quizzed on my “ethnicity” did I acknowledge being Jewish, and it was then that I heard: “You don’t look like the other Jews” or “You’re not like the other Jews.”
To which I’d inevitably retort: “Sorry, but I left my horns at home today.”
Despite my pessimism that this will be a season devoid of light, I urge you to rise above the darkness and run toward the light.
May all of you have a blessed Hanukkah, because freedom to be a Jew is every bit as worth celebrating in 2023 as it was in 164 B.C.E.
LARRY KESSLER (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He blogs at larrytheklineup.blogspot.com.