Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz lit menorahs at the Western Wall for the first night of Hanukkah on Sunday evening.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation said the candle-lighting events there were in honor of Eli Kay, who was shot dead in a terror attack in Jerusalem’s Old City last week. Kay was an immigrant from South Africa who was employed at the Western Wall as a tour guide. He was killed by an East Jersualem Palestinian gunman on his way to work.
Bennett lit a candle on a menorah in the Western Wall tunnels, having first toured a section of the site newly opened to the public.
“It is very emotional to light the first candle in the Western Wall tunnels,” Bennett wrote in a Facebook post. “Hanukkah is a holiday of miracles, and we, the citizens of the State of Israel who live in the State of Israel, are the miracle workers.”
Gantz was accompanied for his lighting ceremony by representatives of organizations that aid wounded veterans and the relatives of those killed in service.
Hanukkah marks the rebellion of the Jewish Maccabees against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE. It celebrates the rededication of the Temple after the Maccabees won control over it. According to tradition, a miracle occurred when a small jug of uncontaminated oil was enough to light the menorah in the Temple for eight days.
“We are very close to the place where the miracle took place,” Gantz said. “You can see the miracle in the fact that they found the jug of oil and you can also see the miracle in the fact that there was someone who would go and look for it,” Gantz said, according to a statement released by his office.
“This heroism was carried out by people, and this heroism relied on unity in the people. We must constantly seek the unity of all the tribes, whatever the challenges. We will pray for the wellbeing of the wounded and we will give strength to the orphans and the widows,” Gantz said.
Meanwhile, President Isaac Herzog lit a menorah at a shrine in Hebron, saying that the Jewish connection to the West Bank city was “unquestionable,” while dozens of left-wing protesters rallied against his visit nearby.
Speaking at the shrine, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and known to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque, Herzog said the Jewish connection to the city and the tomb was not a matter for debate.
“The historic connection of Jews to Hebron, to the tomb of the patriarch, to the heritage of the patriarchs and matriarchs is unquestionable. Recognition of this connection must be beyond all controversy,” he said.
At the same time, he appealed to the shared heritage between Jews and Muslims, despite ever-present tensions in the city, which were heightened around his heavily secured visit. “We won’t agree about everything, but we need to remember that ‘we are all one man’s sons,’” he said according to a statement from his office, quoting from the Bible.
The site is considered holy by both Jews and Muslims and is used for prayers by worshipers of both faiths. It has been a major flashpoint for violence.