Social Issues

As Jewish Minnesotans celebrate Hanukkah, some reflect on rise of antisemitism

A girl lights the candle of a menorah while smiling
Paulina, 17, lighting a candle on a menorah in Maple Grove, Minn.
Courtesy of Olga Frayman

Between the rise of antisemitic crime and sentiment nationally and statewide, and the war in Ukraine, for some Jewish Minnesotans this year's Hanukkah season is a bit more solemn than those before.

This year, Hanukkah runs from Dec. 18 to Dec. 26.

Avi Olitzky, a former congregational rabbi in St. Louis Park, celebrates with a giant menorah in his front yard. What began in 2016 became a yearly tradition of assembling the menorah and turning on a new bulb for each night of Hanukkah. 

The display and its message are purposeful, Olitzky said. Every road in America is covered in Christmas decorations and he said that Jewish people can feel left out. Jewish families in the area drive to visit the giant menorah but Olitzky said the best part is seeing children view it for the first time. 

a giant menorah in a snowy yard
Avi Olitzky's menorah in his front yard in St. Louis Park, Minn.
Courtesy of Avi Olitzky

“I've watched children be dazzled by the wondrous and plentiful Christmas lights but certainly the idea of a giant menorah in the front yard gives them a moment of pride and fantasy in a way that they otherwise would not have before all the Christmas displays in our surrounding area,” he said.

Even with the element of pride, Olitzsky said that antisemitism is always in the back of his mind. He said that at the end of the day, he is proud of his faith and will not shy away from his Jewish identity and he wants others who walk by and see the menorah to feel the same way.

Antisemitic incidents reported in Minnesota tripled last year according to the Anti-Defamation League. Nationwide in 2021 there were 349 incidents reported to the ADL and there have been 510 for 2022 so far.

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, a senior rabbi at Temple Israel in Minneapolis for 20 years, said in an interview with Angela Davis that the stark rise of incidents in 2022 should not be ignored.

I do not know whether hatred is misinformation, or ignorance. It feels like at least in this moment, in time, that there are leaders, politicians and famous people who are using this division to promote fear in order to gain power themselves. And that is not about ignorance. That is about something more.”

Olga Frayman came to Minnesota from the former Soviet Union, now Ukraine. She said growing up being Jewish wasn’t something she ever spoke about and now she has the chance to embrace her cultural traditions. 

A young girl with a mask lights a candle
Nina, 7, lights a candle on a menorah in Maple Grove, Minn. She says her favorite food is a toss up between latkes and sufganiyot.
Courtesy of Olga Frayman

She has three daughters who will each take a turn lighting the menorah this season. Her youngest daughter, Nina, who is 7, checks out books about Hanukkah from the library all year and says her favorite food is a toss up between latkes and sufganiyot.

Frayman said she’s very proud to be Jewish, as are the rest of her daughters. But that doesn’t mean her family hasn’t been touched by antisemitism in the U.S. just as Olga was in the former Soviet Union.

A young girl lights a candle
Zoe, 13, lighting a candle on a menorah in Maple Grove, Minn.
Courtesy of Olga Frayman

“I don’t want to necessarily draw so much attention to myself that people attack me for being Jewish. And it's so frustrating because, once again, we moved here to this country to get away from all that but we can't get away from antisemitism no matter where we go. That is very, very frustrating and sad,” she said.

With each candle they light on their menorah the Frayman family says a prayer for Ukraine. It’s been on Olga’s mind a lot lately, as she has family in Ukraine waiting for the war to end. She says she hopes the light from her menorah reaches Ukraine.

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