How to Support Wisconsin’s Jewish Community This Holiday Season

By Christina Lorey
November 15, 2022

50% of all religious bias crimes are targeted at Jews, who make up just 2% of the population. One in four experienced a hate-based attack in 2021, and although this year’s numbers aren’t in yet, they’re expected to be even higher. 

Around 42,000 Jewish adults live in Wisconsin. More than half live in Milwaukee and Madison. They’re our neighbors. Our friends. Our family members. Our co-workers. Local business owners. Teachers. Political leaders. And much more.

And like any group facing discrimination, they need our support.

How to Help

Support comes in many forms, but it starts with understanding. The Guide to Jewish Wisconsin is a statewide digital database that helps both newcomers and natives get to know the Jewish people and organizations that make up the state. 

Click here to download the guide for free.

In it, you’ll find information about Jewish holidays, as well as Jewish synagogues, schools, daycares, museums, newspapers, and organizations across the state. 

Here are a few things we learned:

Hanukkah, or ‘Chanukah’, is a minor festival in the Jewish faith. Also known as the “Festival of Lights,” the holiday celebrates the victory of the Jews over the Hellenists, when they regained Jerusalem and rededicated the Holy Temple. According to tradition, the miracle of the holiday stems from the one cruse of consecrated oil that was discovered in the Temple and burned for eight days, until more could be made. That’s why foods fried in oil, like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts), are popular this time of year!

A Milwaukee museum is home to more than 225 Jewish artifacts, including many from the Holocaust. Located on Milwaukee’s Santa Monica Blvd., the Rabbi Ronald and Judy Shapiro Museum of Judaica is split into four sections, each devoted to a distinct period of Jewish art and culture. Perhaps the biggest standout is the museum’s collection of household items and art retrieved from the homes of European Jews during the Holocaust. The exhibit also includes the only known mural by famed Wisconsin artist Joseph Friebert.

Wisconsin is home to the eighth-oldest synagogue in America, which will turn 160 next year. In 1863, Jewish immigrants from Germany built the “Gates of Heaven” synagogue on the 200 block of West Washington Avenue, just off Madison’s Capitol Square. In 1970, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The next year, the city bought, restored, and moved it to James Madison Park, on the other side of the Square. Today, it’s used for a variety of events, from weddings to Election Day voting!

Wisconsin’s biggest menorah is on a bridge. Every year, the Milwaukee Jewish Federation lights a different support beam with flickering red, orange, and yellow lights. Every night of Hanukkah, a new beam is lit until all eight are “burning” together. The tradition started in 2020 as a safe way to celebrate during the pandemic. “This is not only for the Jewish community– this is for Milwaukee,” Jewish Federation President Jeff Jones explained. “It’s an opportunity to spread light, hope, and unity.”

You don’t have to live in Milwaukee to see the Hoan Bridge lights. Click here to watch the nightly livestream.

Shine a Light also has great resources for teaching kids (of all ages) about the Jewish faith and America’s antisemitic epidemic. Click here for more.


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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