Light in the darkest of seasons

Local updates connected to the Israel-Hamas war

By Marshall Weiss, The Observer

Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton Past President Debby Goldenberg described this year’s JCC Chanukah celebration as particularly poignant.

Federation staff and layleaders personally invited non-Jews to the program who have expressed their support for the Jewish community since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and the ensuing Israel-Hamas war.

“Over the past two months, the worldwide Jewish community has faced increased antisemitism and hatred due to the war in Israel,” Goldenberg said at the Dec. 14 event, held at the Boonshoft Center for Jewish Culture and Education in Centerville. It was billed as We Are Not Alone — A Community Chanukah Celebration.

“For many of us, we have never experienced this level of discrimination. And yet when I look out at the crowd here tonight, I have hope and reassurance. Many of you are joining us from the general community. Throughout this difficult time and even prior, you have supported and advocated for a Jewish state. You have stood beside us, sometimes at the risk of facing negativity yourselves. You have made it clear that there is no place for hate in Dayton. It is comforting to know that during this dark time, we are not alone. There are no words powerful enough to express our gratitude.”

After guests tasted latkes and sufganiyot prepared by Chabad’s Rochel Simon, Temple Beth Or’s Rabbi Judy Chessin offered the blessings as Federation leaders lit every candle on their Chanukah menorahs, signifying the final evening of the eight-day festival.

“We, tonight light the light of survival. The light of existence on the brightest night, the night when all of the candles are lit,” Chessin said. “We might be sad that the light will go out. But we feel — particularly this year — that the light will continue to glow because of our great alliances and friendships that we have had, by the many people who have come out to support Israel and the Jewish people, and by the rekindling of passion in the Jewish people to indeed, teach the very lessons of Chanukah.”

Chessin also challenged guests to identify the source of a quote: “We didn’t take a foreign land, and we didn’t exist on the spoils of other nations, but on the lands of our ancestors. And through the years, it was illegally seized by our enemies. We, when we had the opportunity, restored our birthright.”

“You might think that was Bibi Netanyahu,” Chessin said. “Or Benny Gantz and the current Israel situation. But no, this was a statement by Shimon HaMaccabee (Simon Maccabee), the last of the Maccabee brothers who fought the Greek empire led by the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus, 2,158 years ago. Imagine that we are fighting that war still.”

Israel Emergency Campaign breaks $800,000
As of Dec. 19, the Jewish Federation’s Israel Emergency Campaign has raised $802,328 toward its goal of $856,000. To date, the Jewish Federations of North America system has raised more than $711 million and has allocated close to $211 million.

The funding provides food and financial assistance for impacted families, the elderly, and homebound. It covers the costs of temporary housing, respite trips, children’s activities, and increased security, as well as support for communities under fire.

Emergency campaign funds purchase medical supplies and equipment for first responders and hospitals near the front line. JFNA also directs assistance to vulnerable populations and their caregivers including young children, people living with disabilities, Russian-speaking Israelis, Ethiopian Israelis, Holocaust survivors, and marginalized populations such as Bedouin communities.

The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Funds for Victims of Terror provides immediate cash grants to families and individuals who have been impacted by acts of terror and violence for post-trauma and psychosocial care.

To donate to the Israel Emergency Campaign, click here.


Piqua congregation among hundreds of U.S. synagogues to receive bomb threats as spree continues despite arrests

By Philissa Cramer, JTA

Temple Anshe Emeth in Piqua was among the Jewish congregations and institutions to receive a swatting threat in mid December. Photo: Anshe Emeth.

Hundreds of synagogues and Jewish institutions across the United States received bomb threats by email between Friday, Dec. 15 and Monday, Dec. 18, in a substantial acceleration of a months-long spree of hoax threats.

The Secure Community Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions nationwide, said that it had tracked 199 threats over the weekend, with nearly 100 in California and 62 in Arizona. Synagogues in at least 17 states plus Washington, D.C., were affected, according to local media reports.

None of the threats was deemed credible after local investigations. But some of them caused significant disruption: A Boulder, Colo. synagogue evacuated its Shabbat morning services on Saturday, for example, while a congregation in western Massachusetts canceled its Sunday religious school.

In Alabama, the state’s only Jewish lawmaker, Philip Ensler, posted a video to social media showing the moment that the Torah reading at his synagogue was interrupted and everyone in attendance was ushered outside. “This is exhausting,” he tweeted. “I pray for the day that we can worship and live in peace.”

Ensler, who is also executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Alabama, later said in a Federation statement that six of seven Jewish institutions in his area had received the threats.

The surge in threats comes at a time of high anxiety for American Jews amid a spike in reports of antisemitic incidents amid Israel’s war in Gaza.

It also follows multiple arrests of people who have been charged with sending bomb threats targeting Jewish and other institutions, including a minor in California in December and a man in Peru in September.

A swatting threat sent to Temple Anshe Emeth’s email the morning of Dec. 18.

Hundreds of synagogues have received bomb threats since the latest spree began over the summer, including during the High Holidays. The arrests do not appear to be blunting the threats.

“Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that this nationwide trend will continue in the foreseeable future,” the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey told community members in an email Dec. 17 sharing news of at least five threats in the area.

Temple Anshe Emeth in Piqua, Ohio, shared with The Dayton Jewish Observer that the congregation received an email bomb threat Monday morning, Oct. 18. Leaders of the temple then met with Piqua’s police chief.

To read the complete January 2024 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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