In December 1971, I along with fellow Jews from Hillel was playing a fierce game of dreidel. The stakes were enormous. If you were not careful you could lose as much as fifty cents. Half way through the game, the campus police arrived having been informed that gambling was taking place on campus in broad daylight, yes right there in a Southern California University and in front of dozens of innocent Gentiles. The immoral contamination of White Anglo Saxon Protestant culture was imminent. Civilization was on the brink of disaster facing ruin. The next day, the campus paper, The Daily Sundial, sported on its cover a huge image of a dreidel with the caption “The Great Dreidel Scandal of 1971.” It was by far the lightest of anti-Jewish experiences I had in college. A few more followed; one was being pursued by a car with three youths in it who with anti-Semitic invectives threatened my life. Another was a library incident in which I was assaulted for merely wearing a skull cap. The reason for these assaults do not require much explanation for the bottom line was the fact I was Jewish and that alone merited the attack. The late Howard Cosell, a rather unaffiliated Jew (who had formally changed his name from Cohen to Cosell), remarked after the Munich Olympic killings in ’72 “I realized that there were people who wanted to kill me simply because I am a Jew!”
At this Hanukah time and as the horror of Pittsburgh continues to abide in our hearts, it is essential that we reflect on the historical realities we as a people have faced; from biblical days to the present season. Our need to be vigilant is unquestionable and the leadership of this congregation has begun to take prudent measures for our security. There are to be sure many kinds of anti-Semitism and in many degrees. My personal college incidences range from a silly prank reporting gambling to the bodily harm that I experienced. It is wise to make a correct and sober assessment while at the same time to always take serious precautions and not minimalize the madness that we continue to face, let alone to be dismissive of the same.
Hanukah means many different things to many of us. Some emphasize the gaiety of light and merriment. Others may focus on the idea of nature and seasonal markings. Still others like me take heart in Jewish resilience. Noting the many assaults to our faith and nation, I marvel at our capacity to re-invent ourselves. Elie Wiesel, our late spokesman for the Holocaust – Shoah was once asked “what is Judaism’s major gift to the world – not monuments or cathedrals –then what?” He simply replied, “Words!” Ours has been a portable faith. When made bereft of our land and its central place of pilgrimage, the Temple of Solomon, we found ways of continuing our faith – Words, Hebrew words and songs especially answering the painful lament of the psalmist, How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? (Psalm 137:4