Drew turns the bulb on the menorah (copy)

Drew Zuckerman, 12, turns one of two bulbs during the annual menorah lighting in the Dr. Arthur Rosenthal Square on West Main Street in North Adams.

Recently, while driving from Great Barrington to Stockbridge, another car went to pass me. I was in the narrow stretch heading north after passing Windy Hill Farm. I was driving the speed limit and had my 4-year-old son in the backseat. As the other vehicle passed by, instead of zipping by, he slowed down and came up next to me, holding that position for several seconds. The other driver stared me down, holding up an obscene hand gesture. I was stunned, especially as I eyed the oncoming traffic moving headlong toward him. I slowed down, forcing him to pass. As my nerves settled, my son asked what that person was doing. He had never seen someone do that before.

Not only did I have to explain to my son what the rude hand motion meant, but the interaction with this other driver also shook me. Retracing my driving, I tried to imagine what I had done to warrant such a reaction from him, but I came up short. I had been in his way, and he let me know he was angry about it. The other driver probably forgot about the interaction a few minutes later. To me, it was an insult that I am still carrying.

Public expressions of anger and aggression are becoming more common the longer we live under pandemic conditions. Over the last several months, airlines, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration have all reported an increase in passenger violence. In major urban areas, road rage shootings are becoming more common. The pandemic has isolated us from one another. No longer are we neighbors with one another, but strangers. Couple our anonymity with the isolation we have all experienced, along with the everyday pressures we each carry, and I better understand the formula that creates the aggression. Explaining road rage, University of Wisconsin psychologist Ryan Martin writes, “Everyone is anonymous to us, and we are to them. We do things we wouldn’t normally do — give people the finger, yell at them, cut them off. If I’m walking down a hallway at work, I wouldn’t do these things. Being on the road brings out and exacerbates anger.” The man who passed me might have had good reasons to be angry. Still, nothing justifies the way he treated me, a drive-by stranger.

As we move through the holidays from Thanksgiving to New Year, our celebrations are reminders to draw ourselves close to one another, fighting against anonymity. We gather at candle lightings, tree lightings, holiday parties and worship services all to be in community, to be known by one another.

Right now, in the Jewish community, we are closing out Chanukah, our Festival of Lights. Chanukah is the eight-night celebration of the Maccabees’ victory over the Seleucid Empire. We commemorate their success by lighting a Chanukiyah, a unique candelabra. The candles we light each night symbolize the miracle the Maccabees experienced during their struggle. When we light these lights, our tradition also instructs us to put them in our windows, to remind passersby about the miracle we celebrate. Chanukah is a holiday celebrated primarily in our homes, but by placing the lights in our windows, we fight against anonymity, seeking to connect and share with our neighbors the warmth created each night.

Moreover, sharing the light at this time of year reminds us that the darkness does not last forever. Soon, the solstice will pass, and we will add light each day. The ancient rabbis debated how to light Chanukah candles, wondering whether to add a candle each night or take one away. They decided that we should add a candle every night because, when it comes to sacred matters, we are only to increase joy. We never willfully diminish that which is holy. I have come to believe that we put our Chanukah candles in our windows just like many put their Christmas trees in the window: to communicate hope and joy.

My heart breaks for that other driver because he changed nothing. He successfully spread ill will. His anger is understandable but far from the holiday spirit. In this holiday season, we seek to increase joy and sanctity for ourselves and others. I hope we each give and receive kindness, that leads to a hopeful and joyous life, for ourselves and for our neighbors, during these holidays and every day.

Rabbi Neil Hirsch serves Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, a reform synagogue in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.