Hanukkah feels different for Minnesotan Jewish community amid Israel-Hamas war

It's the first day of Hanukkah, but amid the Israel-Hamas war and an increase in antisemitism, the holiday feels different this year for many in the Jewish community.

On Monday evening, leaders in Minnesota’s Jewish community lit the first candle of the menorah just steps away from the state Capitol building.

But this 40-year holiday tradition came with heavier emotions this year because it marks two months since Hamas’ attacks on Israel.

"This Hanukkah is very significant because we've seen, shall we say an enthusiasm among Jewish people the world over because of the horrific, horrific acts that happened on Oct. 7 in Israel," said Rabbi Menachem Mendel Feller from Lubavitch and Upper Midwest Merkos. "Nothing that they have done is positive. But we do positive things to eradicate the negative that they have done."

Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights, and because the last few months have felt dim, Jewish leaders said spreading good deeds has become even more important. Many Jews are thinking about the history of this holiday given that it also involved a war.

Organizers said this year, the lighting of the menorah also brought people from other faiths, reminding Jewish people of the support they have.

The weeks since Oct. 7 have been marked by a spike in antisemitism across the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League says. In the month that followed the Hamas attacks, antisemitism incidents in the U.S. increased by 316%.

This week, Minnesota's top law enforcement agency said it was investigating swatting attempts in nine Jewish facilities.

Despite the events of the last two months, Jewish leaders say each menorah should be placed in a visible spot in a family's home as a universal message of goodness and kindness.