Jewish communities prepare for Hanukkah amid a rise in antisemitism
Jews across the Hudson Valley are preparing to celebrate Hanukkah starting Thursday night. The day also marks two months since Hamas launched a large-scale terror attack in Israel that sparked the ongoing war.
Local religious leaders are finding ways to shine light through the darkness.
"We're trying to recognize the gravity of the moment and not allow it to diminish our joy," said Rabbi Jason Fenster, of Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains.
Fenster said his congregation, like nearly all of the synagogues in the area, has spent years putting together safety plans and infrastructure improvements to ensure people have a safe place to gather. This includes contracting with the local police to put armed officers outside the synagogue and physical building improvements that he couldn't discuss.
"With the rise in antisemitic rhetoric, attacks, and events there's a need," said Fenster.
The rabbi added the rise in antisemitism over the last two months has made many Jewish people question how publicly they want to celebrate Hanukkah but he told his congregants not to be intimidated.
"We put our light in our windows so that we can proudly state who we are as Jewish people and I'm encouraging our people should they feel comfortable, that's appropriate to do this holiday. We won't hide who we are even in the face of hatred," said Fenster.
Across the bridge, the Jewish Federation of Rockland has been operating its Community Security Initiative for nearly two years and has helped more than 100 Jewish institutions across the county plan and prepare for a variety of potential threats.
"We are in constant touch obviously with local, state, and federal law enforcement on the potential threats that are around us," said Jewish Federation of Rockland CEO Ari Rosenblum.
Even though there are no verified threats the risk remains high.
On Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Senate committee he has "never seen so many elevated threats all at the same time" particularly around the holidays.
Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued guidance for faith-based communities including practical steps to find and address potential security threats.
Recommendations included developing risk assessment and security plans, keeping landscaping trimmed to prevent hiding places for attackers, or only giving out necessary information during service livestreams.
State Sen. Chuck Schumer recently said Jewish Americans represent 2% of the population but are the targets of more than half of all religion-based hate crimes which have skyrocketed by over 300% since early October.
On Thursday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, plans to release updated civil rights data showing that it has continued to receive a “staggering” increase in complaints of anti-Muslim or anti-Arab bias over the past two months.