Under the glow of the New England Holocaust Memorial on Monday night, public officials and faith leaders of various religions came together to celebrate the second night of Hanukkah and take a stance against antisemitism.
Boston Mayor Michelle Wu was among the honored guests who sat in white folding chairs facing a stage with the Holocaust memorial towers standing tall in the background.
“The twinkling lights of this memorial remind us every day of the stories of resilience that we must always carry, that we cannot forget the atrocities that occurred and our responsibility, generation after generation, to ensure that we are standing together to reject intolerance and bigotry and hatred,” Wu said in her remarks to the audience of more than 100 people gathered at the site, many bundled in heavy coats and winter hats.
The occasion was also used to celebrate a bill that is awaiting Governor Charlie Baker’s signature and would require all school districts in the state to teach middle and high school students about the history of genocide.
The bill has reached Baker’s desk following a year that saw an increase in hate and antisemitism, according to state leaders.
In July, a rabbi was attacked and stabbed outside a Jewish day school in Brighton. More recently, two instances of antisemitic graffiti were found in school bathrooms in Danvers, where school officials have faced criticism for their handling of alleged racist and homophobic misconduct on the 2019-20 boys’ varsity hockey team. And in Duxbury, an independent investigator reported that the high school football team had been using antisemitic terms in its play calls going back to 2010.
“We have multiple examples on the ground in Massachusetts that hate violence is increasing,” said Robert Trestan, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League of New England. “You’ve seen major examples both in Danvers [and] Duxbury, where antisemitism has seeped into the hallways of schools.”
State Senator Michael Rodrigues and Representative Jeff Roy, who have both worked on the genocide education bill, received applause when they were introduced by Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, who described the legislators as “tireless champions” in the cause of “shining a light on antisemitism, hatred, and on the commitment to education.”
Rodrigues said that while “past crimes against humanity cannot be undone, we must learn from them.”
“As members of this commonwealth and the global community, it is our responsibility to equip future generations with the education to combat hatred and prejudice by teaching them the truth and shining a light on the lessons of the past,” he told the audience.
Roy, who filed legislation on genocide education for the first time in 2013, said recent cases of antisemitism in the region “strengthen our resolve to pass [this] act.”
“This new law will show that genocide is not just somebody else’s story,” Roy said. “Genocide education will give students the opportunity to explore how stereotypes, prejudice, and religious and ethnic hatred can escalate to atrocity.”
Wu later had the honor of lighting the middle candle — the “shamash” — of a large electronic menorah set up near the memorial.
Hanukkah began Sunday night and ends the evening of Dec. 6.
“No one should feel afraid to practice or worship or fully express themselves, not here in Boston, and not anywhere,” said Rabbi Marc Baker, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies. “But we’re also here tonight to celebrate because look at this: We’re together, lighting these candles publicly and proudly in the heart of our city.”
Trestan said Monday’s gathering sends “an important message of solidarity across all faiths and across political beliefs.”
“Standing up to hate is a Massachusetts value,” he said.
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