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With antisemitism on the rise, Jewish leaders find solidarity at Kansas City Hall menorah lighting

A group of people stands behind a podium with the emblem of Kansas City. In front of them are two menorahs. One is lit.
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
City leaders and members of Kansas City's Jewish Community gathered to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah. Ben Wolf, center rear, said the recognition from the city is important for the Jewish community.

The city celebrated the first night of Hanukkah with the lighting of a 12-foot-tall menorah outside City Hall and a lighting ceremony inside the chambers. Jewish leaders say this display of unity is just the first step in combatting increasing antisemitism.

Dozens of people watched in the cold in front of City Hall on Sunday as a 12-foot-tall menorah was lit in observance of the first night of Hanukkah.

With hate crimes on the rise across the country, Gavriella Geller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau, American Jewish Committee Kansas City, said events like these are more important than ever.

“We're actually supposed to light our menorahs in our windows facing the street so that everybody can see them, because we are not supposed to be hiding the fact that we're Jewish,” Geller said. “We're supposed to be loudly proclaiming that.”

Members of the city government, including Mayor Quinton Lucas, City Manager Brian Platt, Councilwoman Andrea Bough, and Councilmen Kevin O’Neill and Dan Fowler, joined the city’s Jewish community for the observance.

Antisemitism is rising in the U.S. According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents are the highest they’ve been since 1979 – about a 34% increase year over year.

According to the FBI’s 2021 hate crimes report, bias-motivated hate crimes have risen sharply nationwide. In Missouri, the number of hate crimes reported to law enforcement is up by almost 70%.

The statistics, based on data from more than 81% of law enforcement agencies in the state, show hate crimes based on religion jumped by about 63%. Antisemitic attacks make up the majority of hate crimes motivated by religion.

“Tonight we are lighting the menorah for the first night of Hanukkah alongside our partners in the city government,” Geller said. “With everything that's been in the news the last couple of months, it just reiterates that the ability for American Jews to celebrate our traditions loudly and publicly with the support of our government is so important.”

A 12-foot-tall blue menorah is lit with one electric candle outside City Hall
Savannah Hawley-Bates
KCUR 89.3
With antisemitism on the rise, city leaders celebrated the first night of Hanukkah by lighting a menorah outside City Hall and inside its chambers. City Council also issued a proclamation against antisemitism.

Inside City Hall chambers, Ben Wolf, a student at The Pembroke Hill School, lit the first candle on the city’s menorah.

He and Rabbi Michael Zedek, a board member of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City, led the group in the singing of blessings over the Hanukkah lights.

“The reason why it was so important tonight really was just as a Jewish community, we need to stay strong,” Wolf said. “We've also had some antisemitic instances in media and social media lately, so I think showing tonight that Kansas City stands with the Jewish community is very important.”

According to an antisemitism in schools survey conducted this year by the AJC, 89% of students had experienced or witnessed at least one form of antisemitism at school or on social media. That number has risen sharply since 2020 when only 75% percent of students reported antisemitism.

Bough presented a proclamation on behalf of the city condemning antisemitism and said it’s important to condemn hate in all forms.

“Whether we're lighting the menorah candle or we're lighting an advent candle, we all come together and stand against hate,” she said. “We light a candle to dispel the darkness.”

In his remarks, Zedek said Hanukkah reflects that people are called to be a light to all nations and people.

“When you leave here tonight, we're going to have a (waning) moon,” Zedek said. “In the middle of the holiday, there is no moon. But by the time the holiday is finished, eight nights forward, there will be a new moon coming. Darkness is not the final word.”

Geller said though the increased attention toward and condemnation of antisemitism around Hanukkah is good, it’s equally important for everybody to support Jewish people year-round.

The AJC has released a call to action against antisemitism. Geller encourages people to read that report and implement changes in their lives and workplaces. But she said being an ally to the Jewish committee doesn’t end there.

“Most often when people are faced with antisemitism, they do not even know that they are hearing antisemitism,” she said. “They don't know enough to be able to identify it. Without that, we can't really move forward. If you understand that the Jewish people account for about 2% of the American population, we are usually not in the room when antisemitism is being spoken. And so we have to rely on other people who are in that room to be able to speak up for us in that moment.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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