Houston Jewish community hopes to make Hanukkah lights shine brighter this year in the face of anti-Semitism

HOUSTON – Tuesday at sundown is the second night of Hannukah, but for the Jewish community, this year’s celebrations have more significance than ever before.

“We’ve seen more incidents of flyers and more antiemetic comments at kids and at sports games or in other areas of Houston,” said Renee Wizig-Barrios, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. “In these past couple of months, we’ve seen some really vial social media content, and quite frankly, a lot of jew hatred, which is very upsetting.”

Kanye West was recently using his platform to share negative views about the Jewish people by sharing misinformation and igniting a firestorm of hatred.

The hatred is something Chani Zajak, a Jewish Houstonian, says, unfortunately, is nothing new.

“It’s not something new for the Jews. We have been dealing with this since before I was born, before my parents were born, and even since Judaism was born,” noted Zajak.

Zajak said education is a crucial part of the problem and a great way to combat and mitigate antisemitism.

“It just makes me feel like I need to do more with helping people understand what Judaism really is,” said Zajak.

Now, Houston’s Jewish leaders are hoping the meaning behind Hannukah this year shines brighter than ever before.

“The anecdote to antisemitism is to produce more light. Light pushes away darkness and this is the meaning of Hannukah,” said Rabbi Moishe Traxler, the Director of Chabad Outreach in Houston.

According to Rabbi Traxler, Hannukah is a celebration of light and the word Hannukah means dedication.

The Jewish people rose up against the Greeks over 2,000 years ago and won the war. They entered a destroyed temple that had a lamp with enough oil to burn for one night. That oil ended up burning for eight nights, which is the significance behind Hannukah’s eight-night celebration.

Houston has embraced the Jewish population and has dozens of menorah lightings throughout the week, celebrations and Hannukah parties to commemorate the holiday.

It’s a holiday that Wizig-Barrios said encourages spreading light and positivity while celebrating religious freedom during a time in history when it matters more than ever before.

“We celebrate Hannukah proudly, not because of antisemitism, but in spite of antisemitism,” said Wizig-Barrios. “And Hannukah, while it’s about religious experience and our freedom, it’s also celebrating and acknowledging the religious freedom that everyone should have.”

She said the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston gave out Channukah bags again this year to 3,500 public school students that help them gain a better understanding of the meaning behind the holiday.

As for antisemitic acts, Wizig-Barrios said reporting antisemitic acts is still an issue, so in the new year, they will be sharing a new system that will support people to report and document these acts.

They have also recently started a Jewish community security program, which involves doing assessments of all of Houston’s Jewish institutions, training the community on what to do in case of an incident, emergent notification systems and helping people apply for federal non-profit security grants to get more security for their agencies.

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