The Christmas Menorah
A small town supports a Jewish neighbor when her family faces prejudice during Hanukkah.
BY: Joan Wester Anderson
During the wee hours of Sunday morning, December 8, 1996, after the third night ofHanukkah
, someone took a baseball bat and broke the front window of a house on the street with alighted menorah
in the window, and the criminals reached through the shattered glass and smashed the menorah.
The menorah is used to celebrate the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, also known as Hanukkah, which occurs around the same time asChristmas
. As a nativity scene reminds Christians of their heritage and faith, so does a menorah for Jews.
The woman who lived in the vandalized house was no stranger to prejudice. As a child, she had come with her mother, a Holocaust survivor, and her father, to the United States to escape persecution in the Soviet Union. Now, as she viewed the smashed menorah, the familiar fear returned.
Lisa Keeling, a young mother who lived down the street, heard about the incident on returning from mass with her family. She was appalled. Newtown has about fifteen hundred families, representing many cultures and religions. Lisa had never heard of anyone being singled out because of faith or ethnicity. How would she feel if someone desecrated a crèche on her lawn she wondered. Unless everyone were free to practice religious beliefs, no one could be free. Lisa had an idea. She said to her husband, "I'd like to put a menorah in our front window so that family will know they are not going through this alone. If the vandals come back, they'll have to target us, too. What do you think?
Lisa's husband didn't hesitate. "Go for it," he said.
Lisa soon ran into another neighbor, Margie Alexander, who had been as horrified as Lisa when she heard the news and was also eager to act.
Margie started driving from store to store, looking for menorahs, with Lisa calling all the likely sources and relaying the information to Margie on her car phone. Word got around, and several Christian neighbors dropped by, asking where to purchase a menorah. Margie and Lisa bought up all they could and distributed them just before sundown-time to light the next candle.
Then Lisa took down the Christmas lights in one of her windows and put the menorah there, all by itself. "I didn't want there to be any doubt about the statement we were making," she recalls.
That night, when the Jewish woman turned onto her street, she stopped in amazement. Greeting her was a sea of orange menorah lights, shining in silent solidarity from the windows of all eighteen Christian households on her block. Blinking back tears, she went home, replaced the broken bulbs in her own menorah and put it back in the window.
Margie and Lisa are hanging menorahs again this Christmas. "it's become the most cherished part of my Christmas," Margie says, "and it's taught me a wonderful lesson: Just one little step in the right direction can make life better for everyone."