Here we are in the thick of the “holiday season,” even though our part, as Jews, is over. Hanukkah, in which we celebrate the rededication of the Temple, ended on Monday. Over the course of the past eight days, we ate latkes and sufganiyot, and shone light into darkness.
I’m sitting here, though, with an icky feeling — and that’s not just from eating too much chocolate gelt. I’m feeling perturbed about First Daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump’s presentation of the “holidays” this year — and I’d like to explain why.
Last year, Ivanka posted on Instagram a beautiful picture of her, her husband, Jared Kushner, and their children lighting the candles, captioned, “The 7th night of Hanukkah!”
Let’s compare that with this Ivanka’s holiday presence on social media this year. Yes, Ivanka did post the following on Twitter (without a photo) at the beginning of Hanukkah: “I hope the candles burning bright in Jewish homes around the world light up hearts and bring joy to all this holiday season.”
I hope the candles burning bright in Jewish homes around the world light up hearts and bring joy to all this holiday season. #HappyHanukkah
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) December 2, 2018
And yes, that’s lovely. So lovely! But could my very nice, non-Jewish, newly-elected Congressman have written the same exact thing on his Twitter feed? Why, yes. Because the statement, while sweet, does not read as though it was written by a Jew, or someone who actually views these candles and homes as their own.
We are Jews — Ivanka, me, and likely you reading this. As Jews, it is actually not our calling or responsibility to “light up hearts and bring joy to all this holiday season.” Because we’re not Santa. (Unless you’re this guy — then you are, in fact, Santa.)
When it comes to Hanukkah, it’s our responsibility to remember the great miracles of the past and to light the menorah — and to shine that light out of our windows, in a proud proclamation and ownership of who we are as Jews.
I feel that, on this point — proudly proclaiming her Jewish identity — Ivanka failed. And that it matters at this particular point in time, in a way in which I wish it didn’t.
In a year in which anti-Semitism is on the upswing, both around the world and in our own country — where Jews were gunned down for praying in a Pittsburgh synagogue, simply for the mere fact of their being Jewish in America — it is all the more important to put our literal and proverbial menorah in the window. More than ever, we need to shine out with who we are, in loud defiance of those who would prefer that we not exist.
As Jews, we need to be “out” and proud — proud of our past and proud of our future in this country. And on this point, Ivanka took a dramatic social media turn in the wrong direction. She tweeted the aforementioned benign statement and later, on Instagram, posted pictures of her children reveling in Christmas at the White House. One picture was of her kid looking awed at the magnificent Christmas decor. Another picture showed her kid looking excitedly at trays of Christmas cookies. And another picture showed two of her children gazing, rapt, at a glowing festive Christmas tree.
And, look: America is a Christian country. We can debate that, but I’d rather not. I’m just saying that I understand that the White House is decked in boughs of holly, fa la la la la (not to mention that I, a Jew, know every word of most Christmas carols precisely because of Christianity’s dominance). But here’s the thing: Ivanka is a Jew. Her husband is Jewish and her children are Jewish. And this year, of all years, is not the year to attempt to “pass” as something other than that.
To me, Ivanka’s 2018 presentation of the “holiday season” on Instagram this year rang false. And I wondered: if the First Daughter apparently doesn’t feel comfortable posting a picture of her Jewish family being Jewish, what does this mean for the rest of us? What does that say about the America in which we live?
Social media is the “window” of our day and age. We place menorahs in the windows of our homes — but really, truth be told, for many of us, very few people are wandering our neighborhoods on a cold winter night. When we put a picture of ourselves lighting the candles with our children on social media, however, we are fulfilling the imperative to be out as proud Jews. We are owning our heritage and shining that light into the darkness.
Ivanka is very active on social media, and deliberately so. What families do in their own homes is their own business, but when you are a public figure on social media on a public setting, you open yourself and your choices up to the world. In 2017, I loved that she posted a photo of her family lighting the candles. But this year there was no menorah, no candles. Instead, metaphorical darkness.
There are those who will argue that all this is garbage — mere gestures that are too stupid to fight over. I see merits to that point, even though I don’t agree. Because I feel that these kinds of deliberate, performative posts — signaling who we are and showing the world that we are on the side of light rather than darkness — are all the more crucial in these increasingly dark times for the Jewish people in America.
Now more than ever, we American Jews needed to turn our metaphorical menorahs to the windows, and show the world who we are and why. I just wish Ivanka and her family — as arguably the most prominent Jews in the United States — had felt the same.