In announcing her congregation's decision this year to have a public menorah lighting celebration to mark the Hanukkah season, Rabbi Gila Ruskin made a key observation that is a painful reminder of the not-so-distant past.
"Some of the old-timers in the congregation said there was a time when they were trying to keep their identity not secret but very low-profile, because there just weren't a lot of Jews in Harford County," the rabbi from Temple Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace told an Aegis reporter, adding, "I think it's a real step for them to feel comfortable having a public menorah like other synagogues do."
An unfortunate reality of American culture is the fear of minority groups by so-called majorities. Anti Semitism was a good deal more rampant in 1955 when Adas Shalom was founded. Though that was the year after the U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared school segregation by race unconstitutional, it would be another 10 years before Harford County's racial segregation of schools would end.
This December, we can see many displays relating to the preeminent Christian observance of the season, Christmas, and we're also blessed with the menorah displays of both the Havre de Grace congregation and another Jewish congregation in Bel Air. That those celebrating the lesser-known of the holidays don't have the fear they once did is an unexpected but positive development.
The differences in the two holidays are among the things that separate the two faiths, but it also is important for Jews and Christians alike to acknowledge a link to the same ancient tradition, that of Father Abraham. Adherents to both faith communities regard themselves as children of Abraham, as do the followers of the prophet Muhammad.
When we look for things to divide us, often we find them easily, but when we look for the things we share, we can start to find our shared humanity.