Holocaust survivors to hold virtual Hanukkah ceremony amid antisemitism fears

Claims Conference to host online menorah lighting with Billy Crystal, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jason Alexander to speak, Barry Manilow to perform

File: Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, center, inspects a giant Hanukkah menorah, set up by the Jewish Chabad Educational Center ahead of the Jewish Hanukkah holiday, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany, December 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
File: Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, center, inspects a giant Hanukkah menorah, set up by the Jewish Chabad Educational Center ahead of the Jewish Hanukkah holiday, in front of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany, December 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Holocaust survivors from around the globe will mark the start of the fifth day of Hanukkah together with a virtual ceremony, as Jews worldwide worry about the Israel-Hamas war and a spike of antisemitism in Europe, the United States, and elsewhere.

Survivors can join an online ceremony of a menorah lighting on Monday night to pay tribute to the 6 million European Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

Several dozen survivors were also expected to gather in person for a menorah lighting at Jerusalem’s Western Wall — the holiest place where Jews can pray.

“Holocaust survivors somehow overcame the depravity of concentration camps, death camps and killing centers, among other horrors, to become our living exemplars, providing a roadmap on how light can overcome darkness,” Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said in remarks released to The Associated Press ahead of the ceremony.

The New York-based conference is organizing the event in observance of International Holocaust Survivors Night.

“Their resilience, their strength and their fortitude leave a truly indelible light in this world,” Schneider added.

Hanukkah, also known as Judaism’s festival of lights, marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BCE, after a small group of Jewish fighters known as the Maccabees liberated it from occupying Greek forces.

This year’s holiday comes as many Jews feel traumatized by Hamas’s deadly October 7 onslaught on southern communities, when terrorists massacred 1,200 people, mostly civilians in their homes and at a music festival, amid acts of horrific brutality, and took some 240 hostages to Gaza.

Israel then launched a military offensive aimed at destroying Hamas’s military and government in the Gaza Strip, where it has ruled since 2007.

Several celebrities and world leaders spoke about the massacre in messages that were to be shown at the ceremony. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel has affected us all deeply. Something of abyssal evil broke free that day,” according to comments released to the AP.

“The perpetrators’ motive is clear: They wanted to hit Israel,” the chancellor added. “They wanted to murder Jews. In its repugnant brutality and abhorrence, however, the terror is also directed against humanity itself.”

Scholz, addressing Holocaust survivors, said he tries “to imagine how much the images from Israel, how much antisemitic hatred on the internet and on the streets around the world must be hitting you, of all people right in the heart.”

“This… pains me a lot,” he said.

File: Auschwitz survivor Leon Weintraub, 94, shows his arm where he has no identification number as he poses for a portrait in his apartment in Stockholm, Sweden, January 10, 2020. (AP Photo/David Keyton)

President Isaac Herzog will participate in the event, along with German Finance Minister Christian Lindner and the US State Department Advisor on Holocaust issues Stuart Eizenstat, the conference said.

The virtual event, which starts at 8 p.m. on Monday in Germany, will also include musical performances, celebrity guests, and messages from Holocaust survivors from around the globe.

Leon Weintraub, a Holocaust survivor from Sweden, who was in Israel during Hamas’s brutal incursion, recounted what he experienced that day.

“On October 7, I woke up from the sirens in the center of Tel Aviv. All at once I was again in September 1939 when the Nazis invaded Poland,” he said. “A terrible feeling, a shiver, a feeling of dread to be again in a war.”

“We celebrate Hanukkah now, the festival of lights. I hope that the light will also bring the people enlightenment,” Weintraub added. “That people will rethink and look at us people of Jewish descent as normal, equal. Human beings.”

American comedian Billy Crystal, and actors Jamie Lee Curtis, Rob Reiner, Debra Messing, Jason Alexander, and Mayim Bialik will speak at the event. There will also be a musical performance from Grammy and Tony Award-winning singer Barry Manilow, as well as the cast of Harmony.

The Hanukkah celebration will be streamed with captions in three languages — English, Hebrew, and Russian. Anyone in the world who is interested can view the event, the Claims Conference said.

Canaan Lidor and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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