Chana Shapiro’s Chanukah Message for 2023

Chana Shapiro’s Chanukah Message for 2023

For our annual Chanukah issue, we asked members of our community to share their responses.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Chana Shapiro
Chana Shapiro

Jewish Peoplehood

When I taught in New York, a Black Christian colleague, Claudia, was shocked when a Jewish teacher, at a department meeting, criticized other Jewish teachers for “taking off from school on so many Jewish holidays.”

Claudia said members of her community would never criticize one of their own in public like that. I was discomfited, of course, but I answered that Jews are not a homogeneous group, and we often vehemently disagree with one another; I explained that, nevertheless, our diversity does not nullify our linked Peoplehood. But Peoplehood, though real, is hard to explain.

As of October 7, 2023, our enigmatic Peoplehood has been tested.

When we lived in New York, the public school system employed a lot of Jewish teachers. My friend Claudia, a rationalist, was understandably confounded by the striking differences among the many Jews who worked in our school. The confusing mix included those of us who brought kosher lunches to school and the Jewish P.E. teacher who bought non-kosher hot dogs for lunch from the neighborhood bodega, the Black Jewish math teacher who worked in a Brooklyn yeshiva every afternoon from 3:00 – 5:00, the Jewish school counselor who said she didn’t believe in any religion but always wore a Star of David around her neck, the taciturn Jewish cafeteria worker with a number on her arm who refused to talk about the Holocaust, and the Jewish art teacher who said she was a Jewish Buddhist. “We’re a very diverse group,” I agreed. “But we’re all members of the Jewish People.”

I don’t know where Claudia is now: I wonder if she senses the Jewish Peoplehood truth playing out today in real time with amazing acts of generosity and chessed (loving kindness) from all segments of our People, yet disagreements about how to extinguish forever the fire we didn’t start. We’re in pain about the hostages and the war and reel from worldwide antisemitism, but we’ve learned something important about our Peoplehood: we’re all in the fray together. Let the Israelis be our Maccabees; may their valor and fortitude enlighten, strengthen, and unite us.

Chag Chanukah Sameach!

Chana Shapiro is an educator, author, illustrator, and freelance journalist.

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