By Corinne Baum
On the first night of Hanukkah this holiday season, Sherman had its own first. A crowd of approximately 50 people gathered and cheered as local officials and Jewish citizens lit a hanukkiah on the lawn of the Grayson County courthouse; it’s the first time in the county’s history such an event has occurred.
Sherman resident Angela Sokol organized the historic event with a lot on her mind. Earlier in the fall, she applied for a grant from the Jewish Federations of North America to fight antisemitism however she saw fit.
“I was talking with a rabbi from Israel365,” Sokol said. “He said, ‘There’s so many communities canceling Hanukkah celebrations this year, so you know, congratulations on getting one put up.’ And this is our first ever!”
After hearing about the events in Israel since Oct. 7, the Yeshiva University Jewish studies graduate student wanted to use her resources to promote solidarity with Israel and Jews everywhere.
The cause is especially near and dear to her heart as the mother in an interfaith family, even though she’s not Jewish.
“I had this local Protestant minister pastor speak,” Sokol said. “It (his speech) was all about how we need to stand with our brothers and sisters, because we are grafted into Israel and this is a time where we need to denounce this (antisemitism). It was just beautiful.”
Sokol didn’t just use her platform to light a menorah in her small town; she used it to educate Christians about Judaism and Hanukkah. The menorah lighting was preceded by an educational session on the history of Hanukkah, filled with games of dreidel, lighting menorahs and community discussion led by Sokol and Sharon Michaels, director of the Dallas branch of Israel365.
“That was the whole goal of it: to expose Christians to Jewish holidays, Jewish traditions and customs,” Sokol says. “Sharon talked about how, as an Orthodox woman, she celebrates and then I talked about the spiritual significance to Christians.”
But Sokol is not stopping with Hanukkah. Her goal is to continue to educate more Christians on antisemitism and Jewish traditions.
“I do intend to, with God’s help, have other events going forward,” she said. “It’s more and more awareness, more and more knowledge. And that’s how you build friendships — the more you understand someone, the deeper the feeling goes.”