Nantucket Rabbi On Celebrating Hanukkah Amidst Rise Of Antisemitism

Jason Graziadei •

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Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, one of the leaders of Nantucket’s Jewish congregation Shirat HaYam, is of course celebrating Hanukkah this week. But this year, he said, it feels a little different.

As the island’s Jewish community has observed the eight-day festival, the Oct. 7th attack by Hamas on Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza weigh heavily on their psyche. The conflict has prompted numerous antisemitic incidents across the country, and those acts have made many Jews think twice this year about how publicly they celebrate their faith during Hanukkah.

“There’s still a sense of pride,” Bretton-Granatoor said. “I don't think it’s changed the way the congregation, in general, feels about the holiday. But it makes us think more. What is happening in Israel and Gaza, we do pray for a miracle.”

Whether it’s protests targeting Jewish businesses, physical attacks, online rhetoric, the shredding of posters depicting Jewish hostages, or the recent testimony of the college presidents before Congress in which they evaded questions about repercussions for antisemitism on their campuses, Bretton-Granatoor said the atmosphere in the country and the world has “certainly changed the landscape upon which we celebrate the festival of Hanukkah. It juxtaposes a reality right now and introduces a whole new set of concerns we all have. It does make us circumspect how we behave publicly because people are being physically attacked for being Jews.”

“The growth of antisemitism in our country,” he added, “is frightening and gives us all pause.”

Congregation Shirat HaYam is celebrating its 40th year on Nantucket in 2023. Bretton-Granatoor said the island’s Jewish community is relatively small, but has had an “outsized presence” and been involved in numerous civic initiatives such as historic preservation.

Shirat HaYam members organized a small counterprotest late last month during a larger pro-Palestine protest that was planned to coincide with President Joe Biden’s Thanksgiving visit. They stood across the street from the pro-Palestinian group at the Milestone Rotary holding signs that read “I Stand With Israel” and “Americans Against Antisemitism.”

The tactics of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza - including what President Biden has called “indiscriminate bombing” - have prompted widespread protests and calls for an immediate ceasefire. Asked whether he supports those calls, Bretton-Granatoor said “A ceasefire will come when the hostages are released and returned to their homes and Hamas is disengaged from power. The facts on the ground are changing so fast. I think there are various points of view, and we’re not unanimous. None of us have all the facts. I would be loath to say we’re all united on this one vision. The Jewish community is as diverse now as it’s always been. On Nantucket, we have a wide diversity of views and none of them are wrong. But ultimately, regardless, we want safety and security in Israel.”

Hanukkah comes to a close today, and Bretton-Granatoor said its message is even more important in the current climate.

“The message of Hanukkah is we should all be able to be proud of who we are and not live with religious persecution,” he said. “But right now, being proud of who we are comes at a cost in our own country.”

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