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Community Shines Light on Sexual Assaults by Hamas

Chanukah program highlighted the sexual violence on Oct. 7.

by Jan Jaben-Eilon | Atlanta Jewish Times

If nothing else, the Dec. 15 candle-lighting ceremony, “Shine the Light,” sponsored by several Atlanta Jewish organizations at The Temple to underscore the brutality of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel – and especially vicious violence against women that day – assured the community that non-Jews had not forsaken them.

Women with lit menorah at The Temple.

Approximately 75 people from across the Atlanta community participated in the Dec. 15 event.

In her emotional remarks at the program, The Temple’s Rabbi Loren Lapidus noted the silence many Jewish progressive groups experienced from those whom they thought of as allies but expressed her relief that many of the interfaith friendships in Atlanta had not disappeared after all. This was evidenced by the women who participated in the candle lighting on the last day of Chanukah. Approximately 75 people from across the Atlanta community participated in the Dec. 15 event.

In addition to women leaders of a handful of local Jewish organizations, candle lighters included President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast Carol McDonald, publisher of Atlanta Daily World Alexis Scott, CEO of Atlanta Women’s Foundation Kari Love, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia Andrea Young and rector of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church the Rev. Patricia Templeton.

“I felt very honored to be asked to light a candle,” Templeton told the AJT on Christmas Eve. “I have a lot of Jewish friends and I could tell that the Oct. 7 attack wasn’t just something that happened on the other side of the world but was very personal.” Templeton said she had reached out to Stacey Hader Epstein, one of two co-presidents of National Council of Jewish Women Atlanta Section after Oct. 7, “so she just reached back out to me” when NCJW, the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta, Temple Sinai, Jewish Democratic Women’s Salon, and Hadassah quickly put together the Dec. 15 program.

The Rev. Patricia Templeton lighting candle on menorah.

The Rev. Patricia Templeton, rector of St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, called the event “very powerful.”

Epstein, NCJW Co-President Susan Gordon, and Lisa Freedman of JWFA opened the program, after which the candle lighters each spoke a line, some about speaking up for the Israeli women, some for the hostages still in captivity in Gaza and some about standing in solidarity with all women. After each woman spoke, she lit a candle of the menorah. The event concluded with cantor Tracey Scher and Rabbi Lydia Medwin, both with The Temple, leading everyone in song.

The Chanukah program resulted from a small roundtable held eight days earlier to “brainstorm messaging and action in response” to what the Jewish women leaders felt was a lack of condemnation by the non-Jewish world. When he heard of the proposed candle-lighting ceremony, The Temple’s Rabbi Peter Berg “jumped on the idea to bring people together,” said Epstein.

Rebecca Stapel-Wax lighting candle on menorah.

Rebecca Stapel-Wax, executive director of SOJOURN, lit one of the candles on the menorah.

The invitation to the small group of women to attend the roundtable stated that it was seen “as a starting point, with the potential to enlarge our group to include our friends from other faiths who stand with us in our horror.” The Dec. 8 roundtable had followed the Dec. 4 special session of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women entitled “Hear Our Voices,” at which national CEO of NCJW Sheila Katz spoke of a “ripple effect” emanating from that meeting.

In late December, Epstein said her group plans to “debrief” in January and figure out how to expand the ripples of conversation outward into the wider community. She pointed out that the month of March is International Women’s Month.

After the candle lighting ceremony ended, Epstein said “many, if not most,” of the 75 attendees thanked her for giving them the opportunity to support their Jewish friends. “Most of the people who showed up were not Jewish.”

In fact, Templeton said members of her church attended the event which she called “very powerful.”

Three women standing in front of lit menorah.

NCJW Co-President Stacey Hader Epstein (left), Lisa Freedman of JWFA, and NCJW Co-President Susan Gordon opened the program.

Andrea Young said that the ceremony was important because “it gave people the opportunity to come together from different parts of the community. I think that one of the very beautiful things about the ceremony was that it found ways to phrase our common concerns from different perspectives. When crises happen, it’s so important that people can find things to agree on. What happened on Oct. 7 was horrendous, shocking.”

Oct. 7, of course, was when thousands of Hamas terrorists and their allies toppled Israel’s border fences and invaded Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, brutally raped women and girls and abducted some 240 people into Gaza, where half are still held hostage.

Epstein said her group “definitely felt empowered” after the Chanukah candle-lighting program and how the awareness of the Oct. 7 massacre is rippling into the community.

According to Young, that is the “power of Atlanta. People will come together and pledge to work together. That’s what makes Atlanta a special place.”