Marking the start of Hanukkah Thursday evening, the families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas held a candle-lighting ceremony during a rally in Tel Aviv calling for the release of their loved ones, while soldiers fighting against the terror group lit menorahs in Gaza to celebrate the first night of the Jewish holiday.
The ceremony in Tel Aviv was held in an area called Hostages Square, where relatives and friends of those abducted in the Hamas-led onslaught on October 7 lit Hanukkah candles. The display included at an empty table set for the festival that featured menorahs with photos of hostages.
About 137 hostages remain captive in Gaza following the release of 105 civilian abductees, mainly women and children, starting on November 24 and through December 1 as part of a Qatar-brokered deal to free groups of hostages in exchange for a multi-day pause in fighting, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and a boost in aid supplies to Gaza.
In Tel Aviv on Thursday night, some demonstrators marched to the Kirya military base as they carried torches and called for the immediate return of the hostages, chanting “Now! Now! Now!”
Among those lighting candles at the square were US Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew and Amit Shani, a 16-year-old former hostage from Kibbutz Be’eri who was abducted by Hamas-led terrorists and held in Gaza until her release on November 29, alongside 11 other Israeli hostages, as part of the weeklong truce agreement.
Before the temporary ceasefire deal, four hostages were released unilaterally, one was rescued by the IDF, and two bodies of hostages were recovered in Gaza.
“I am very moved and happy to stand here this evening for the first night [of Hannukah], on Israeli soil,” Shani told the crowd. “I want to thank everyone who worked for the return of all the hostages and everyone who has so far returned. It makes me so happy to finally be here with family and friends.”
“We need to keep fighting until the last hostage is returned,” he added.
Additionally, fellow Be’eri residents Raaya Rotem and her teen daughter Hila Rotem, who were freed on separate days last week, lit a menorah during a Zoom call with kibbutz members evacuated from their homes following the Hamas massacres on October 7 when 1,200 people were killed, mainly civilians.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) December 7, 2023
Similar candle-lighting events in honor of the hostages were held elsewhere, including the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Since the truce ended last week when Hamas violated the terms by refusing to release remaining female hostages and two children, fighting has resumed in Gaza, with the military expanding the ground operation into the southern Strip.
On Thursday evening, soldiers operating in Gaza also lit candles to celebrate the holiday.
בלב עזה: מפקד אוגדה 36, תא"ל דדו בר כליפא, בהדלקת חנוכיה עם הלוחמים בעזה pic.twitter.com/Mte9lzGohL
— איתי בלומנטל ???????? Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) December 7, 2023
“You are modern day Maccabees,” Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, the head of Southern Command, told troops in the Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza.
“This is a long, important and difficult war, and this is a symbolic moment of the lighting the Hanukkah candles… We will continue onwards until victory,” he said.