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Reaction To Rampage At Hanukkah Celebration As Prosecutors File Hate Crime Charges


Federal prosecutors filed hate crime charges today against the man accused of stabbing people at a rabbi's home this weekend. They were celebrating Hanukkah. Prosecutors say they've uncovered the suspect's handwritten journals in which he referred to Adolf Hitler and Nazi culture.


Meanwhile, Jewish life goes on in the rabbi's town of Monsey, N.Y.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

KELLY: That is a parade. It was planned for yesterday. It went ahead - a parade by the Hasidic Jewish community there celebrating a new Torah scroll. So to talk more about how some Jewish people are thinking about displays of faith amid a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, we're joined now by Danya Ruttenberg. She's a rabbi and an author who's been writing about the discussion.


DANYA RUTTENBERG: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So as someone who has written about the increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks in the U.S., I want to start by asking what your first reaction was, what went through your head when you heard about yet another violent attack this past weekend.

RUTTENBERG: Shock and horror. It doesn't get old. Even as we know that anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise - there's 48% more anti-Semitic attacks reported by the ADL, the Anti-Defamation League, in 2018 than in 2016, and there's a dramatic increase in physical assaults - it's still shocking every single time.

KELLY: Do these incidents spark discussion about what it means to be visibly Jewish in the United States in 2019?

RUTTENBERG: That's definitely something people have been talking about. In one recent poll, 25% of Jewish Americans said that they avoided certain places and situations because they were afraid of being attacked, and 31% said that they avoided wearing or displaying things that would identify them as a Jew. People are feeling it. People are worried. And yet, anecdotally, most of the people I know feel staunchly that we need to continue to live our lives and to represent who we are as we are. So there's tension.

KELLY: You wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post after the attack earlier this month at the kosher market in Jersey City, and one of the points you made had to do with Hanukkah and lighting the menorah and how that should inform the discussion. Just walk us through that.

RUTTENBERG: So at Hanukkah, we light the Hanukkah menorah, and according to Jewish law, we're meant to put it in the window or the doorway of our house, somewhere where other people outside can see it, in order to proclaim the miracle of Hanukkah. Now, the miracle of Hanukkah, of course, is that we, against all odds, won a war against those who wanted us to assimilate or die. And so we're meant to put our lights in the window and blaze brightly so that everyone can see us.

Now, the Talmud says, in times of danger, we shouldn't do that; we should just put our menorah on the table and not make ourselves a target. And so the crux of the op-ed is asking, you know, is that now? Are we in a time of danger?

KELLY: May I ask where you've landed on this question?

RUTTENBERG: Jewish law is very clear that a time of danger, vis-a-vis not shining brightly with our lights in the window, is a time when the state has outlawed the practice of Judaism. And so we can name this as a scary time, but it - this isn't a time of official state repression. If we hid the menorah every time it was unsafe to be a Jew in history, we would almost never have it out. And now is a time when we're able to do this, and so we have an obligation to.

KELLY: It sounds like, in that context, you're glad that the parade went ahead yesterday as planned, the Hasidic Jewish parade to celebrate the new Torah scroll.

RUTTENBERG: Absolutely. The mere act of celebrating our traditions is an act of resistance. We're not going to be defeated.

KELLY: It's the author and Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg.

Thank you so much for your time.

RUTTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.