Hanukkah doesn’t begin until Saturday, but hundreds of Boston’s Jewish residents will take to the streets to symbolically light nine candles — the amount on a menorah — as a way to shed light on racism, including Islamophobia.
Organized by the Jewish Voice for Peace Boston chapter, the Hanukkah solidarity march is a way for Jews, Muslims and all allies to combat Islamophobia and racism at a time that activists say is especially treacherous for those minorities.
“This is the second annual Hanukkah against Islamophobia [march] but given the past election year we’ve been through, we’re seeing a rise in hate crimes targeting Muslims,” said Liza Behrendt, an organizer with Jewish Voice for Peace Boston.
Between Nov. 9, the day following the election, and Nov. 14, the Southern Poverty Law Center collected 437 reports of “hateful intimidation and harassment” nationwide.
“Hanukkah is a holiday where Jews across the world gather together and light candles, so across the country tomorrow groups like ours will gather to take a stronger stand to visibly oppose Islamophobia and racism,” she said.
Jews have experienced hate since the election also, Behrendtsaid, but the Jewish Voicefor Peace members are not just focusing on combating anti-Semitism.
“What’s really important in opposing anti-Semitism is that we remain united with communities of color, immigrant and rescue communities, LGBTQ communities and Muslim communities,” Behrendt said. “Our safety and freedom is bound in the safety and freedom of other marginalized groups. There’s strength in numbers and it’s important to maintain a sense of solidarity as we enter a new era.”
There are more than 60,000 Muslims in the Greater Boston area, said Kanwal Haq, director of development with Jetpac Inc., and yet their voices aren’t heard. Jetpac Inc. is an organizing partner of the march and a political advocacy center that focuses on equipping Muslim residents will the skills they need to be elected into office.
“We’re doing the organizing work that trains them to lead a community they are already involved in,” Haq said. “Muslims are vastly underrepresented in office.”
Haq will speak at the march about Jetpac and about how communities in Boston can work in solidarity together.
“When allies help support organizations, and then those who are being affected actually voice the concerns, it’s very effective,” she said.
Separate from Jetpac, Haq is also a graduate student at Boston University’s school of medicine. Personally, through her studies there, she’s seen how political rhetoric that paints Muslims in a negative light actually affects the public health of these communities.
“Every move, every thing you say, [you think], ‘am I going to be safe in this situation?’” she said. “That’s a constant question.”
Shannon Erwin, executive director of the Muslim Justice League, said that the timing of this march is important for getting people who are wondering what they can do to help involved.
“This is an opportunity to move from an expression of interpersonal solidarity — a thing that a number of us have engaged in in recent weeks — to a real focus on education and structural change,” she said.
The nine candles will be the spark for that education. As the groups march through downtown Boston, they’ll stop and symbolically light the candles, which each stand for a commitment they pledge to make to help oppose Islamophobia and other forms of racism.
“We will not be silent about anti-Muslim and racist hate speech and hate crimes,” the first commitment reads.
“We call for an end to racist policing, #SayHerName, #BlackLivesMatter,” another reads.
A news release about the event says that members of Black Lives Matter will participate in and speak at the march. A representative of Black Lives Matter Boston could not be reached for comment.
About 2,000 people have responded that they are interested in attending the march via its Facebook event page. It will begin at the Massachusetts State House at 5 p.m. and continue through downtown Boston.