I write these words as 2019 winds down to the start of 2020. With last night’s sundown, Hanukkah reached its end for this year. I was so gratified to be with so many from our community as we welcomed the holiday on the first night on Dec. 22 at Montenegro Square in Ashland. Singing, eating, sipping hot cocoa, joining in the blessings—there was joy and the hope for increasing our sense of light and warmth in the dark and cold of the season. And I surely hope and pray that your family’s celebration over the eight days was joyous and filled with light.

Alas, we are also keenly aware that this year’s celebration was marred by a seemingly unending spate of antisemitic attacks on Jews, especially in the New York metro area. One after another, these horrific and heinous attacks were a stark reminder of the central historical message of our festival—the need to kindle light against darkness, and to fight for the freedom to celebrate our religious values and identity.

In my sermon on Rosh Hashanah morning I spoke about the uptick in antisemitic incidents and a (then) recent experience at Boston’s Holocaust Memorial with our religious school students: “We need to be able to speak openly and honestly with our children. The world that is being created by the divisions of our time will be theirs. While we need not show all of the gruesome movies and pictures I remember seeing as a young student, we owe them answers, the opportunity to ask their questions, and to be our partners in deciding how we will respond to the fractures in our broken society and nation. I believe that as a congregation, even as a small congregation, we must do our part in being part of the response. Or as Rose Spitzer taught the students last Sunday as we sat on the Greenway near the Holocaust Memorial, we have a choice: Are we going to be bystanders or upstanders? Friends, we, too, have that choice before us.”

Recent events continue to remind us of the importance of that message. In the aftermath of the Saturday night attack at a rabbi’s home where Hanukkah was being celebrated in Monsey, N.Y., I received a beautiful email expressing concern and solidarity from the Rev. Katie Keene at the Federated Church of Ashland. In part, it reads: “Dear Eric, I was away from FCOA yesterday with family, but tried to get a message to the deacons before service so the community could join sisters and brothers everywhere in prayer after yet another hate-filled attack on the Jewish community…there just aren’t words, but I hope in some simple actions you will know FCOA is made stronger and deeper as a faith community because of your presence among us…I was with old and dearest friends when the news came about the attack in NYC…There was nothing to say yesterday…we stood and silently embraced in the kitchen, and we lit candles. Please know I am committed to finding even the smallest ways of letting your congregation know we are grateful for your presence in our lives.”

It was so comforting to receive this message from our friends and neighbors. At the same time, I believe it is incumbent upon us to do our part in response to the growing darkness. For some time now we have been discussing holding some gatherings for discussion on timely subjects to afford us an opportunity to come together as a community, and as a way to introduce ourselves to others in our area who may not know us. Our leadership is hard at work in arranging the first of these gatherings, likely to be held at the Ashland Public Library in mid-late January (or possibly early February). When I was asked for a list of topics, one which I readily included was a discussion of the rise in antisemitism and how we can face and respond to this reality. In light of the events of this Hanukkah season, no topic seems more timely. Stay tuned for more details, and please invite your friends and neighbors who may be interested in the subject, or in our small congregation to join us at the gathering.

As the clock ticks down to a new secular year, I certainly hope and pray that it, and the new decade it ushers in, will be one in which we see an increase in light, hope and shalom!

As my wife, Laura, and I have now moved to Metrowest, I want to offer an invitation for the coming months: I would love to meet as many of you as would like to for a cup of coffee or tea and conversation. I want to hear your story and that of your family. I want to hear about your visions for our community, and to give you an opportunity to ask questions. If you’d like to make a time in the weeks and months ahead, please send me an email at rabbi@shaareishalom.org, and we will find a time to get together.

I look forward to seeing many of you at our upcoming services and as we enter the new decade with hope, commitment and strength to do our part in building our community and our world into the one we envision for good.

May 2020 see an end to hate and unhealthy divisions. May it bring you and your loved ones health, joy and shalom!

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