Lighting 15 candles together

Lighting 15 candles together

Representatives of Jewish and Black communities join at Carnegie Hall to combat hate and discord

Lady Anya and Clive Gillinson, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Elisha Wiesel, DeBra Oguamah, and Robert Smith stand by chanukiot and kinaras, ready to celebrate the two holidays
Lady Anya and Clive Gillinson, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Elisha Wiesel, DeBra Oguamah, and Robert Smith stand by chanukiot and kinaras, ready to celebrate the two holidays

In response to Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who has descended into full-on antisemitic babblings and has been amplified as a presence outside the music and fashion worlds by his recent presence at former President Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort — where he was a dinner guest along with antisemitic troll Nick Fuentes — as well as to the antisemitic fulminations of basketball star Kyrie Irving, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood decided to fight back.

“We” — that’s Rabbi Boteach, Elisha Wiesel, the businessman son of the late Holocaust survivor, writer, and Nobel peace prizewinner Elie Wiesel, and Robert Smith, the Black entrepreneur and philanthropist who most famously took on the college debts of about 400 Morehouse College graduates at their commencement in 2019, and has worked with the school and its students since then — “decided that the best way to respond to people trying to sow discord between Jews and Blacks is to bring them together,” he said.

“We wanted to bring them together not only to condemn the darkness, but to light candles together.”

The Uniondale High School choir sings to honor both Chanukah and Kwanzaa.

So the organizers filled Carnegie Hall on Sunday, December 18. Because it was Chanukah, with its eight nights of candles, and soon to be Kwanzaa, with its seven candles, the part about lighting candles, using the symbolism of hope to chase away darkness, was a natural.

“I was in Germany, in Berlin, speaking at a Jewish student conference, when we had the idea for this conference, and we put it together in 48 hours,” Rabbi Boteach said.

It’s rare for Chanukah and Kwanzaa to coincide, but this year Chanukah’s last day, Monday, December 26, is the first day of Kwanzaa.

“This was a Black-Jewish event,” Rabbi Boteach said. “It wasn’t interfaith,” so the holidays’ proximity to Christmas didn’t matter. “It wasn’t about Jews and Christians. It was about Jews and African Americans, and how, this year, between Chanukah and Kwanzaa, there are 15 nights of light.”

Community leader DeBra Oguamah speaks as Rabbi Boteach listens.

Rabbi Boteach’s guests included the Rev. Al Sharpton and New York City Mayor Eric Adams, as well as the high school choir from Uniondale, Long Island, which “is one of the best high school choirs in the country,” Rabbi Boteach said. “They did a Chanukah song they created. They blew me away.”

The Rev. Sharpton “gave a ringing condemnation of antisemitism,” Rabbi Boteach said. “He said that anyone who condemns racism but not antisemitism will never fight it successfully, because if you hate Blacks, you hate Jews, and vice-versa.

“Mayor Adams spoke about how antisemitism is metastasizing on the internet. He also said that by following internet accounts, they were able to apprehend suspects who were threatening the Jewish community, and he said that in his opinion, if you threaten and perpetuate hate crimes, you are going to go to jail.”

Elie Wiesel’s widow, Elisha’s mother, Marion Wiesel, who is 93 years old, was at Carnegie Hall. Addressing Ms. Wiesel in his remarks, Rabbi Boteach said that “your husband was liberated by a Black soldier under General Patton. Robert Smith tracked down the son and the daughter of his liberator last year, and I spoke to them.

From left, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Robert Smith, New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams, Elisha Wiesel, and Carnegie Hall’s Clive Gillinson, Carnegie Hall’s executive and artistic director.

“I told the crowd that when those Black soldiers who liberated Buchenwald came home, they weren’t heroes.” To be clear, they were heroes — but their heroism wasn’t recognized. Jim Crow laws were in effect, so “they were not allowed to drink from a water fountain in the South. They had to sit at the back of the bus. That’s why Martin Luther King Jr. was the greatest American of the 20th century — he was the man who purged America of its greatest sin, the sin that was at the heart of America. And he was a man who never celebrated his 40th birthday.

“None of us can disgrace his legacy.”

Given the history — and the understanding of history — that Blacks and Jews share, why did this chasm develop? “It’s a shame, and it’s on both of us,” Rabbi Boteach said. “Why aren’t there more events like this one, where we light candles together?

“One day the messiah is going to come, whether you believe that it’s his first coming, as we do, or his second coming,” he concluded. “When that happens, Blacks, Jews, people of all ethnicities, every color, every shade will come together as God’s children, with equal love and dignity. Hatred will stop. Bigotry, antisemitism — it all will end.”

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