NEW YORK – With antisemitism on the rise across the United States, Bishop Michael Sis of San Angelo, Texas, took a public stance of solidarity with the Jewish community Dec. 13, participating in and speaking at an interfaith Hanukkah celebration he himself helped organize.

In remarks, Sis said he hopes the Catholic presence at the celebration “expresses respect, friendship, and a desire for mutual understanding.” He also emphasized the importance of Hanukkah for all faiths, considering the story is one of religious freedom.

“This evening, this Hanukkah celebration here in San Angelo is a wonderful opportunity to appreciate an important tradition in the lives of our Jewish brothers and sisters, and it is also a chance to reflect on the fact that the story of Hanukkah is actually important for all faiths,” Sis remarked.

“We can all find inspiration in it, because it is a celebration of religious liberty – the right to practice one’s religion according to the dictates of one’s own conscience,” Sis continued. “That’s what was at stake for the Maccabees in Israel 164 years before Christ. That’s what is at stake today around the globe, in North Korea, China, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and a host of other places.”

Sis went on to list of number of hopes he has for the future, including that people around the world can freely express their faith regardless of their religion, and “that all of us, from so many different religions, may be able to exist, in mutual respect, side by side, in peace and justice.”

The interfaith Hanukkah celebration, held Dec. 13, was the first of its kind in San Angelo in which Sis has participated. He told Crux that the idea actually came from a Catholic woman in San Angelo, who suggested the diocese hold some sort of public event in solidarity with the Jewish people.

Antisemitism has increased in the United States since the Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, where more than 1,200 people were killed. In the months since, as a war between Israel and Hamas ensued, more than 18,400 Palestinians have died, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled territory. Israel has said that 113 of its soldiers have died.

Hamas also still has more than 150 of the 240 hostages it took on Oct. 7.

Stateside, the war has led to a rise in antisemitism. The Anti-Defamation League, which tracks antisemitic incidents nationwide, reported this week that between Oct. 7 and Dec. 7 there were a total of 2,031 antisemitic incidents, up from 465 incidents during the same period last year.

These incidents include, according to the organization, 40 incidents of physical assault, 337 incidents of vandalism, 749 incidents of verbal or written harassment and 905 rallies including antisemitic rhetoric.

At the Dec. 13 Hanukkah celebration, Sis quoted a Nov. 28 2022 statement from the U.S. Bishops conference, where it stated that “in unequivocal terms, we condemn any and all violence directed at the Jewish people, whether motivated by religious, racial, or political grievances.”

Present at the celebration were more than 75 people, including Jews, Catholics, Methodists Baptists, Church of Christ members, and non-denominational believers, Sis said. The celebration was held in the hall of a Methodist church in the heart of downtown San Angelo.

Along with Sis, remarks came from Pastor Scott Bradford of First Methodist Church and Ami Mizell-Flint, president of Congregation Beth Israel. The celebration concluded with a Menorah lighting ceremony, in which Sis and the other faith leaders participated.

Sis later told Crux that interfaith collaboration “is essential for building a more just and peaceful society.”

“It allows us to acknowledge our differences yet collaborate on what we have in common,” Sis said. “It provides us with better channels of communication to confront problems before they get out of hand, and it leads to more creative and effective solutions to problems in our community through the synergy and good will that is created through these encounters.”

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