Hannukah isn’t great at the tiny condo this year.

Sure, it’s still the same hopeful, symbolic holiday that celebrates standing up for what you believe in. Sure, as it has done for over two thousand years, Hannukah teaches us that light outshines the darkness every time. And sure, the tiny condo is still host and home to a generations-old menorah signifying light, love, and miracles. And of course, drawings done at Temple Beth El Hebrew School almost thirty years ago are back on the fridge. Hannukah is fine this year, but not great.

Obviously, the holiday isn’t to blame. In her song “Anti-Hero,” Taylor Swift eloquently belts out, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.” Swift talks about fully owning up to her lack of responsibility in relationships. I reference and relate to this song, not just because it’s my favorite, but because I’ve avoided taking on the win-lose, lose-win that is Israel and Gaza long enough. Ducking it no more I’m addressing it here, in two sentences lifted from my Number One.

1. Do not confuse anti-Zionism (believing Israel does not have the right to exist) with antisemitism (discrimination against Jews).

2. Do not confuse pro-Zionism with Islamophobia (discrimination against Islam or Muslims).

Nothing in this tale as old as time is easy to think about. Jews across the globe are divided by the first statement, but I stand by it. Thinking about it requires critical thinking, learning, relearning, and an open mind. For all of us living in the day and age of CNN, FOX, and Google as gospel truth, that’s asking a lot.

As a child, I was sent to Hebrew School two afternoons a week and on Sunday mornings. We learned to sing “Hatikvah,” which means “The Hope,” and is Israel’s national anthem. My Uncle Nat and Aunt Shirley moved to Israel in the 1970’s and my dear cousin Martha and her now-extended family live there still. This is not unique. Most American Jews are related to, or have someone precious to them, who live, work, and play there.

My Number One went on Birthright Israel, which is a free ten-day trip offered to Jewish young adults all over the world. Supporting and believing in Israel is in my DNA. In fact, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen is a black and white photograph of my grandfather at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. Wearing his tallit (prayer shawl), tears are streaming down his face. Just being there was a right and gift Jews have yearned for since 70 AD.

However, nothing in my upbringing makes it acceptable to bulldoze hospitals, displace entire families, and violate rules of international humanitarian law. At the very same time, I’m seeing children and babies crying in devastating rubble on TV, I know Hamas is operating from tunnels just beneath them. With a goal of eradicating Israel and Jews, Hamas doesn’t align with the values of most Palestinians, who prefer a two-state solution. My sadness and heartbreak in this oversimplified synopsis are beyond words.

So, yeah, with Islamophobia and antisemitism on the steep incline here in the United States, Hannukah is hard this year. But there are still a few days left and I’m reaching for the brightness beyond my candles. I’m also looking for solace in the beauty of your Christmas trees and in the unwavering friendship of my neighbors.

Please, please let’s be the light we seek this holiday season. As always, thanks for reading, enjoy your meal, and reach out anytime.


Natalie Haberman Ladd is an award-winning columnist who puts her ADD diagnosis to good use. The proud mother of two millennial daughters, Natalie enjoys a codependent relationship with her dog Mellie, who came from Mississippi to rescue her. Reach out: nladd@metln.org.

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