The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, in partnership with ADL-
Philadelphia and AJC South Jersey/Philadelphia shined a light on antisemitism on Nov. 30 in Center City.
The groups hosted a Chanukah candle-lighting and a series of speakers inside the Municipal Services Building that, together, illuminated antisemitic issues and dispelled “the darkness of hate,” as an event listing put it.
Jewish Federation CEO Michael Balaban, Director of Campaigns and Outreach for the Anti-Defamation League Shira Goodman and American Jewish Committee Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey Regional Director Marcia Bronstein all spoke. Representatives from the City of Philadelphia, including Mayor Jim Kenney, also attended and addressed the audience.
The event was part of a national initiative to “Shine a Light on Antisemitism” organized by the Jewish Federations of North America. More than 80 federations across the country took part, according to Allan Domb, a city council member who spoke at the local event.
Jewish Federation officials purposely planned the local version during the Festival of Lights. Like most Chanukah gatherings, it was also a celebration, they said. The listing called it a chance to share “in the light of love and acceptance for the Jewish people.”
But unlike most Chanukah gatherings, it was not just a celebration. It was also another reminder of “the danger of antisemitism in all of its modern-day forms.”
“In recent years, the rate of hate-motivated attacks in America has been steadily rising,” Balaban said. “We cannot allow antisemitism or any form of bigotry to remain unchecked.”
Robin Schatz, the Jewish Federation’s director of government affairs, said it was the JFNA’s idea to align the event with Chanukah. But she added that the local organization agreed with the decision.
“Given the uptick in antisemitic attacks across the country, they thought this would be the right time to shine a light,” Schatz said.
According to Schatz, Chanukah is not just the Festival of Lights, either. It’s a reminder of the long history of antisemitism.
The Maccabees were revolting against a king, Antiochus, who tried to marginalize Jewish life.
And regionally, as Schatz noted, antisemitism has reared its ugly head.
Before the November election, Jewish Pennsbury School Board members said they were receiving antisemitic threats. Last month in Central Bucks, a resident spoke at a school board meeting and said the ADL had Mafia ties.
Exaggerated comparisons between COVID restrictions and Nazi Germany discrimination against Jews also have popped up there.
“We need to say hate speech is not acceptable,” Schatz said. “Antisemitism is not acceptable.”
It would be one thing, Schatz explained, if the JFNA had not felt a need to declare this Chanukah-based initiative. But since it did, it became incumbent upon the Jewish Federation to show solidarity with federations across the country.
“That many are going to be doing it makes it more significant,” Schatz said. “It’s important that leaders in our community make public statements.”
Even though the JFNA decided on the initiative in November, Jewish Federation had no trouble putting the event together. The biggest tasks were scheduling speakers and alerting local media outlets.
“It was an event that we felt we had the bandwidth to put together,” Schatz said.
Domb, a city council member at-large, introduced the speakers and served as host.
Balaban, the Rev. Lorina Marshall-Blake, Kenney, Bronstein, state Sen. Sharif Street and Goodman followed.
Upon stepping to the podium, Kenney called it “an honor to be here today.”
“The Jewish American community has a long, storied history here in Philadelphia,” Kenney said. “As mayor, I can assure you that Philadelphia will always be a welcoming city to everyone. No matter what they look like or where they come from or how they worship.”
The mayor said that Philadelphia’s inclusivity was one of its “greatest strengths.”
“When we see any form of hate or discrimination, we must continue to speak out and condemn it,” he said. “It’s up to us not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and to celebrate our differences.”
After the last speaker, Kenney stepped back up to light the menorah on the podium. He lit the shamash candle, then allowed other dignitaries to light the candles representing the first three nights of Chanukah.
Pennsylvania Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro could not attend the event but sent in a statement for Goodman to read.
“I wanted to take a moment to thank you for shining a light on the antisemitism that still infects our society,” he said. “I wish you and your family a happy Chanukah.”