Rabbi Saroken Delivers Remarks at Governor’s Hanukkah Brunch

On Sunday, December 10, Rabbi Dana Saroken was invited to speak at Maryland Governor Wes Moore’s Hanukkah brunch. Below are some photos from the event along with a reflection from Rabbi Saroken.

“A beautiful morning at the Governors Mansion with the Governor, First Lady, Israel Ambassador Herzog, Ha’zamir Choir, and many from the Jewish Community of Maryland. I first met Governor Moore when we were seated next to each other at a Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem. His concern and care for lsrael and the Jewish People then and now remains wholehearted and unwavering.”

Rabbi Saroken’s full remarks can be found below:

The Talmud teaches us that we must first start with a gratitude to the host so today I want to thank the governor and the First Lady for hosting a Chanukah party in your beautiful home for all of us. Our Jewish souls are weary nowadays and your generosity and care truly make a difference.  

Governor, it makes me smile to remember the first time we met – we were in Jerusalem together, many years ago, I came to join the Weinberg mission for shabbat services and Shabbat dinner, and just happened (thank you, rachel Monroe!) to be seated right beside you. Please Gd, one day we will both be back in Jerusalem for simchas. For happy celebrations.

Every year at Chanukah, we light the chanukiah. Unlike the Shabbat candles which we light inside the home, Jewish law instructs us to light the chanukiah (ideally) outside in the street or in the window of our home facing outward. We do this in order for passerbys to see. It’s a bold expression of faith. Especially in times like these. 

A quick story that some of you might remember: it was 1993. In Billings, Montana. And there was a wave of hate crimes directed at People of Color, at Native Americans and at   Jews. 

There was a 6 year old Jewish boy named Isaac Schnitzer who decided to decorate his window with a colourful paper chanukiah. The next day. A rock came flying through his window. The rock shattered the glass but Isaac  was fine. Physically. Emotionally, he was shaken. What Issac couldn’t understand is who would have done such a thing? And  why.

His parents explained that this was another hate crime and that people hate minorities. Including Jews. Isaac’s young and beautifully naive mind couldn’t yet comprehend it.  The police assured the Schnitzer’s they would do their best to protect them but that they also advised them to “lower their profile” and to remove their chanukiah from the window.

Isaac’s family refused. Instead his mother called the local paper and asked them to make the incident front page news so others might understand what it’s like to be Jewish. 

The Schnitzer’s also came to learn that there were hate crimes all over the community, and that when the African American church community was harassed – people showed up to support them. That when a native American’s home was vandalised – people showed up to support them. 

In 1993, in Billings, Montana – home to 85,000 people – more then 10,000 residents put a Hanukkiah in their window. 

And guess what happened? Hate crimes decreased. Why? Because ordinary citizens put themselves on the front lines of the fight against hate and intolerance.” That year – Chanukah became a true celebration of religious freedom.

This year, Chanukah for the Jewish People around the world is bittersweet.  The voices of those on the front lines fighting against hate and intolerance are certainly significantly quieter than they were in Montana. The Jewish People are in the midst of fighting so many battles: there is the war for the very existence of the Jewish People and the Jewish Homeland.  And another war on our college campuses and another war on social media and another battle  against anti-semitism. And yet…. We will NOT give up. 

Every day since October 7th has felt dreadful and dark. That’s what the terrorists wanted. To destroy us. In body and in spirit. October 7th is our ongoing trauma as we continue to hear the stories, to fight the war that we never wanted to be fighting, and to pray for release of the 137 of our people who are still buried alive in Gaza. It is a very hard time to feel joyful and hopeful.  

And that is exactly why we need Chanukah this year and celebrations like these. Because we can’t let the terrorists succeed in diminishing our light.  We will not allow for such a thing. Not now. And not ever. 

And so we sing….Al ha’nisim and we remember that we are not the first Jews to face the unimaginable. To have our sense of safety and security taken from us and to have others threaten our existence. The Romans and the Greeks were among the many who tried to destroy us. And yet. Here we are.  And as Jews there is one thing we know – that the Jewish people NEVER give up. That we never lose our hope, our optimism or the ability to envision better days and victories. 

And so we light our lights. And we put them in our windows and we insist today and always… that we will be the ones….

That WE will be the ones 

to bring light to darkness

That we will be the ones

To bring hope to despair

That we will be the ones to change the music of the loud voices chanting hateful things 

And that we will be the ones 

To insist 

That miracles happen

Often when you least expect them

And that in the end goodness prevails

And so will the Jewish people

Am Yisrael Chai! 

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