Hanukkah is almost upon us, and this year, it's not just about latkes, jelly doughnuts, and exchanging disappointing gifts.

GIF from "The Simpsons."

At a time of great uncertainty and fear — when swastikas are popping up in public parks, incoming government officials are not quite denying that they maybe might start putting all the people who follow a disfavored religion of their choosing on a list, and neo-Nazis are donning fedoras and mingling over chicken parm sliders at swanky D.C. chain restaurants, we (((Jews))) need to take a lesson from our Maccabee forefathers, bust out our dreidels-of-sneaky-plotting, and gear ourselves up to reject darkness and resist oppression as forcefully and righteously as we can.


Fortunately, rejecting darkness and resisting oppression as forcefully and righteously as we can is kind of our thing.

To refresh our memories and lay on some much-needed inspiration, here are eight stories of badass Jews who fought back against fascism — one for each night of Hanukkah:

1. William Cohen, who helped unite Jews in America against Hitler

William Cohen. Photo by U.S. State Department.

In 1933, while much of America's political leaders were busy convincing themselves that the Nazis were just passionate about stretching their triceps, Cohen, a former U.S. congressman from New York, prominently endorsed a boycott of German goods.

"Any Jew buying one penny’s worth of merchandise made in Germany is a traitor to his people," Cohen announced at a meeting of the Jewish War Veterans. While the boycott (obviously) failed to stop the Nazis, it helped galvanize Jewish resistance in the United States and frame opposition to the regime as a moral duty.

He also thoroughly kicked Hitler's ass at mustaches.

2. Danuta Danielsson, who treated Swedish neo-Nazis with an appropriate lack of respect in the 1980s

Here's what we know about Danuta Danielsson:

  • She was of Polish-Jewish descent.
  • Her mother survived Auschwitz.
  • During a neo-Nazi rally in Vaxjo, Sweden, in 1985, she ran up to one of the demonstrators a and smacked him with her purse.

Danielsson never talked about the incident and passed away three years later, so we'll never know why she did it, but "hitting Nazis for revenge is fun and good" is probably as close a guess we'll ever get, and, you know what?

That's fine.

3. Leon Feldhendler and 4. Alex Pechersky, who helped shut down a concentration camp

On Oct. 14, 1943, Feldhendler, a Jewish council leader in the Zolkiew ghetto, and Pechersky, a Russian-Jewish soldier, led 300 of their fellow prisoners on a daring, improbable escape from the Sobibor concentration camp — the largest such prisoner escape of the war. Though only roughly 50 of the escapees survived the next two years, the camp was forced to shut down in the wake of the revolt.

Both Feldhendler and Pechersky lived to the see the Nazis kicked out of their respective homelands, though Feldhendler was killed in an ambush by right-wing Poles in early 1945. The two were instrumental in making a lot of Nazis sad and/or dead, a legacy that was, ultimately, memorialized in the 1987 film "Escape from Sobibor."

5. Faye Schulman, who provided historical documentation of the resistance movement in World War II

A photographer by trade, Schulman was initially recruited to take pictures for the Nazis when they invaded her Polish hometown in 1941. Determined to find clients less likely to enslave and, eventually, murder her, she fled into the woods, where she convinced a group of partisans to let her embed.

She spent the next two years taking pictures, documenting the day-to-day activities of the resistance. Because there were no craft stores in the woods, she made her own solutions to develop her photos.

Schulman preserved her photos through the end of the war and beyond, eventually entering them into the historical record as proof of that there was defiance behind Nazi lines from Jews and non-Jews alike.

6. Simon Wiesenthal, who tracked down Nazis after the war to bring them to justice

A death camp survivor, Wiesenthal survived the murder of most of his family, separation from his wife, and a brutal forced march that nearly claimed his life in the years following Hitler's invasion of his native Poland. After the war, he settled in Linz, Austria, and dedicated his life to a single, glorious goal: hunting Nazis.

Wiesenthal chased Nazis all over the world — first as a freelancer (somehow, Wiesenthal even managed to make the gig economy seem badass) and eventually through his organization, the Jewish Documentation Center. He tracked down Adolf Eichmann in Argentina; Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, in Brazil; and Karl Silberbauer, the gestapo agent who arrested Anne Frank, in Austria. He helped put dozens of former SS agents on trial in West Germany. And presumably, he did it all while feeling absolutely 100% great about himself and having no regrets, ultimately passing away at a ripe old age while, it would stand to reason, shredding a killer solo on an electric guitar. He was just that badass.

7. Vidal Sassoon, who threw down with British fascists in a series of bloody street fights

Vidal Sassoon (left). Photo by Ronald Dumont/Getty Images.

Yes, that Vidal Sassoon. Only one year after World War II ended in Europe, a group of British fascists, led by Oswald Moseley, attempted to rebuild their political movement by spreading fear of "aliens" — code for refugee Jews living in the U.K.

The famous hair stylist, then a teenager, was part of an underground movement of British ex-service members who grabbed knives and razor blades and punched, kicked, and slashed Moseley's thugs on the streets of East London until they gave up and crawled back down the hole they slithered out of.

Really.

That Vidal Sassoon brand shampoo that's been sitting, half-full, in your downstairs shower? That's right. That's the shampoo of justice.

8. Gertrude Boyarski, who literally burned a bridge between Nazi soldiers and the food they needed

"I want to fight and take revenge for my whole family" would not be a totally out-of-place thing for Liam Neeson to say at the beginning of a film where he teams up with a wolf to kill the man who ran over his aunt with a train. Instead, those words came from the lips of Boyarski, who actually spoke them to a Russian commander after her parents and siblings were killed by German soldiers in the Polish woods.

With vengeance on her mind, Boyarski teamed up with the Soviet partisans to create as much Nazi pain and misery as humanly possible for the next few years. According to the former partisan, she and a comrade personally set fire to a bridge used by Germans to transport food and supplies, were discovered, and subsequently were shot at.

When the bridge failed to burn fast enough, they tore parts of the flaming bridge apart with their bare hands while Hitler's troops tried in vain to machine gun them in the face.

So, um.

How many Nazi bridges has your grandma burned down? (Seriously, we should get our grandmothers together and ask them.)

While our ancestors did a heckuva job sticking it to fascism, when the last candle burns down this year, there will still be more fight to be fought.

Want to join up?

You can donate some of that Hanukkah gelt to the ACLU, Immigration Rescue Committee, Muslim Public Affairs Council, and Anti-Defamation League.

Unfortunately, they don't accept tube socks, so you're stuck with those.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Ronny Tertnes' "liquid sculptures" are otherworldly.

Human beings have sculpted artwork out of all kinds of materials throughout history, from clay to concrete to bronze. Some sculpt with water in the form of ice, but what if you could create sculptures with small drops of liquid?

Norwegian artist Ronny Tertnes does just that. His "liquid sculptures" look like something from another planet or another dimension, while at the same time are entirely recognizable as water droplets.

I mean, check this out:


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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel.

A stranger knocked on the door of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas on Saturday morning shortly before Shabbat service. It was 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, so Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, 46, made him a cup of tea. The rabbi and Malik Faisal Akram, 44, a British national, spoke for a few moments and then the rabbi went on to perform his regular 10 a.m. Shabbat prayers for his congregation.

When the rabbi turned his back to face Jerusalem, he heard a click come from the stranger. "And it turned out, that it was his gun," Cytron-Walker told CBS News.

Akram began screaming and a congregant, Jeffrey Cohen, the vice president of the synagogue's board of trustees, quickly pulled out his phone and dialed 911. A livestream broadcasting the prayer ceremony to congregants participating from home caught some of what Akram was shouting. "I'm gunned up. I'm ammo-ed up," he told someone he called nephew. "Guess what, I will die."

The FBI got word of the 911 call and quickly set up a perimeter around the synagogue. Akram took four people hostage, including the rabbi.

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What you look like in a selfie camera isn't really what you look like in real life.

We've all done it: You snap a selfie, look at it, say, "OMG is my nose swollen?" then try again from a different angle. "Wait, now my forehead looks weird. And what's up with my chin?" You keep trying various angles and distances, trying to get a picture that looks like how you remember yourself looking. Whether you finally land on one or not, you walk away from the experience wondering which photo actually looks like the "real" you.

I do this, even as a 40-something-year-old who is quite comfortable with the face I see in the mirror. So, it makes me cringe imagining a tween or teen, who likely take a lot more selfies than I do, questioning their facial features based on those snapshots. When I'm wondering why my facial features look weird in selfies it's because I know my face well enough to know that's not what it looks like. However, when a young person whose face is changing rapidly sees their facial features distorted in a photo, they may come to all kinds of wrong conclusions about what they actually look like.

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