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Where light shines, hate shrivels

Russell Berrie Foundation awards grants to four groups fighting antisemitism

Rabbi Brian Beal
Rabbi Brian Beal

Temple Beth Tikvah, a Reform synagogue in Wayne, has received an $8,450 grant from the Shine A Light initiative, with the intention of using it for an educational program on antisemitism during Chanukah.

The grant is one of four that Shine A Light, a partner of the Russell Berrie Foundation of Teaneck, awarded to organizations in northern New Jersey. About $29,000 was shared among the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office Community Outreach Unit, and Beth Tikvah.

“Hopefully, this will bring an extra measure of light and blessing to the world,” Rabbi Brian Beal of Beth Tikvah said. The program will be on Sunday, December 10, the fourth night of Chanukah. More events, funded by the same grant, will follow in 2024, he said.

Members of the Muslim, Christian, and Hindu communities will be part of the Beth Tikvah program, which is also sponsored by the Wayne Clergy Council. One part is for high school teens, and the second part is for adults. “We will be discovering our similarities and embracing our differences,” Rabbi Beal said.

A component of the program will involve each group spending “an hour eating Jewish cultural food and sitting at tables getting to know each other with dialogue and conversation,” Rabbi Beal continued. “We are really trying to get people to form meaningful relationships and learn about each other. Certainly, Shine A Light has made that possible.”

One of the reasons the program is so needed now is because of the events of October 7, the day Hamas invaded Israel, murdered about 1,200 people, and kidnapped another 240. “There’s not only an uptick in antisemitism, but also Islamophobia and other hatreds worldwide,” Rabbi Beal said. “I think people are much more guarded, and there’s tension.”

The Shine A Light initiative began in 2021 with the understanding that collective action is the most effective way to address antisemitism, Islamophobia, bias, hate, inequality, racism, and marginalization, according to its website.

It draws inspiration from Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, to champion the message that light can dispel darkness and hate.

The Russell Berrie Foundation of Teaneck is one of the supporters of the national Shine A Light campaign, and awarded $250,000 in 2023 nationally. “The foundation is pleased to heighten the national Shine A Light campaign’s impact in New Jersey by supporting the efforts of Rabbi Beal, the Wayne Clergy Council and other community leaders to strengthen relationships that can minimize harmful prejudice,” Idana Goldberg, its CEO, said.

With its grant, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey helps run an educational campaign for youth, intercommunity relations, and law enforcement to combat antisemitism and hate and to build safe spaces for Jewish identity, according to a statement from the Russell Berrie Foundation.

The Kaplen JCC is offering programming that a wide array of faith and community partners can use to boost awareness about antisemitism.

The Bergen County Sheriff’s Office Community Outreach Unit also received a grant, which will build on programs it now operates to forge a stronger connection with faith-based communities and create a culture of understanding and acceptance, with particular emphasis on the Jewish community.

“With antisemitism on the rise, it is more urgent than ever for communities of faith to join in education and advocating to fight antisemitism, Islamophobia, and hateful bias,” Ms. Goldberg said. “Their efforts will certainly help to dispel the darkness and bring much-needed light and hope this Chanukah.”

For more information about Temple Beth Tikvah’s Shine A Light event, go to www.shinealightonwayne.com.

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