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This year's Hanukkah highlights kindness, history, and hope amid global conflict

Posted at 3:05 PM, Dec 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-12 17:05:03-05

BILLINGS — No matter what one's understanding is of the disputes in Palestine and Israel, the impacts could be felt at this year's Hanukkah.

"Maybe they feel afraid, or they feel alone, or they feel a little ostracized in their communities," said Rabbi Shaul Shkedi from Chabad Lubavitch of Billings.

Many celebrators offered apprehensive looks toward cameras alongside polite but firm, "No, thank you"s when asked for an interview for television.

A concern was frequently cited of being potentially tokenized during a time marked by a rise in anti-Semitism and global tension between the Jewish community and others.

“Right now, throughout the world, people are nervous to put menorahs in their windows," said Rabbi Erika Purdy with Congregation Beth Aaron.

This anxiety stems from a long endured history with the face of hate and oppression, reaching back to the roots of Hanukkah. Every song, game, and bite of food is intended to serve a purpose in telling the Jewish story, according to Shkedi and Purdy.

“The symbolism of Hanukkah is all here to tell a complete story, the dreidel, the latkes, the donuts fried in oil … we remember the significance of religious persecution and overcoming it," said Shkedi.

Both rabbis describe the story of Judaism as one of survivalism; one that should inspire pride, according to Shkedi.

“Many others might say, ‘hide yourself;’ it’s quite the opposite. Be proud, be proud of who you are. Be proud of what you're connected to and that’s what will keep us going," said Shkedi.

Billings, according to local Jewish leaders, has lit the way in combating antisemitism over the last 30 years, namely through the perseverance of the "Not In Our Town" movement.

“The entire community with putting up the menorah in their windows became a national model for how to deal with hate or bigotry in their community," said Carol Roberts.

The symbols of Hanukkah are said to be parts of a struggle for peace for all people, Jew and gentile alike, according to the rabbis.

“That’s the proactive way to make Billings, Montana, and ultimately the world, a better place, one step at a time," said Shkedi, "Just as a flame, you give to someone else; you don’t lose anything. You do kindness to someone else … only the other person gains.”