Last month, actor Adam Kulbersh told his 6-year-old son Jack they would not be putting out Hanukkah lights this year due to safety concerns.
Kulbersh shared the conversation with his friend Jennifer Marshall, who immediately said that despite not being Jewish herself, she would display a menorah in her own window to support him and Jack.
Project Menorah was born out of that “act of compassion,” said Kulbersh, whose initiative accrued thousands of followers on Instagram and Facebook, and resonates with some American Jews fearful of “publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah.” For 2,000 years, it has been a Jewish tradition to proudly display hanukiyot, or the nine-branched Hanukkah candelabras also known as menorahs, for the public to see.
“I did a thing and it’s taken off. I’m just trying to ride the wave,” said Kulbersh in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home.
The Project Menorah website offers downloadable menorahs for people to print and put in their windows. There is also information about the appalling state of antisemitism in the US since October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists infiltrated Israel, brutally murdered 1,200 people and took 240 hostages.
“We need to push back and this is something that is simple, manageable, doable,” said Kulbersh, who enlisted siblings, cousins, and friends to do “grassroots” PR around the project, he said.
“These past eight weeks, most Jews have been floored by the amount of antisemitism we are seeing,” said Kulbersh, citing the vandalization of Jewish preschools and numerous physical assaults on Jews in cities.
“I never thought I’d live in a world where a child would be afraid to put out a holiday decoration,” said Kulbersh, who taught himself how to use website building and graphic design software to launch the project.
Kulbersh, 50, called himself a “working class actor” and has played roles on dozens of television shows including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “NCIS,” and “Young Sheldon.”
“I’m usually the third Jew from the left,” joked Kulbersh, who first visited Israel on a large family trip about 30 years ago, he said. His Haredi brother lives in the Jewish state and has eight children, said Kulbersh, whose project tagline is “only love lives here.”
Kulbersh’s entire family was set to convene in Israel for Thanksgiving, he said, where his mother would have celebrated her 75th birthday among all her children and grandchildren.
The trip was canceled following October 7, and no one knows when a new date might be set, Kulbersh said.
‘It lights them up’
Kulbersh does not have a background in Jewish or Israel activism, but he said the October 7 massacres and ensuring onslaught of antisemitism were a turning point.
“This is the first time that many people might ever be making a public display against hate,” said Kulbersh.
For Jewish parents concerned about how their children are processing antisemitism, Project Menorah is a wonderful response, said one mother interviewed by The Times of Israel.
“As a Jewish a parent, it is so important, now more than ever, to instill my children with pride for who they are,” said Ariel Scheer Stein, founder of Jewish Family Magic in New York City.
Through her company, Stein curates everything Jewish families need to observe traditions and holidays. From up-to-date music lists to recommended children’s books, Stein — who once led Birthright Israel trips for college students — seeks to “bring the magic” of being Jewish to young families.
“When my children see a menorah displayed publicly or in someone’s home, it lights them up and they feel proud to be part of the Jewish community,” Stein said.
Like Kulbersh, Stein is not shy about being Jewish in public with her words and image. She regularly poses with Israeli flags and has been advising her 12,000 Instagram followers on Hanukkah shopping finds in recent weeks.
Importantly, said Kulbersh, Project Menorah asks participants to photograph and share the image of a menorah in their window. In this way, said the actor, the message will spread to many more people, including Jews fearful of displaying their own menorah.
“If this many people are willing to put out a menorah on your block in support of Jewish people, then maybe you as a Jew don’t need to be afraid to put out your own menorah,” said Kulbersh, adding he and his son are now going “all-in” for Hanukkah, instead of keeping last year’s decorations in the closet.
The Project Menorah website includes inspirational stories of people who have helped rescue Jews, whether from the Nazis or Soviet persecution. Kulbersh emphasized the importance of allyship for Jews seeking to “display” their religion, be it in a window or with a covering on their head.
“With violent antisemites trying to scare and oppress Jewish communities around the world right now, we need friends like you to shine the light of liberation with and for us,” said Kulbersh. “In every era, we have had allies who stood by us.”
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