In a dark time, Jewish communities around the globe came together to light the first candle of Hanukkah that shone through the darkness.
On December 7, the Israeli Ministry for Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism, along with organizations such as Ami, UnitEd, Mosaic United, and Jewish communities, hosted a livestream event called “Light the World Together with Israel” full of lively performances, inspiring speeches from victims of the October 7 attack, and the lighting of the Hanukkah candles in more than 50 locations in Israel and around the world. The event was watched live by thousands around the world, including on The Times of Israel homepage.
“This holiday symbolizes light and hope,” said Avi Cohen Scali, the general director of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, during the event. He talked about the timely significance of Hanukkah, when the Maccabees fought on the very same ground that the IDF soldiers are fighting on today. “I promise that Israel will always be a safe place for the Jewish people. We will rebuild together and together we will win.”
The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism monitors and fights antisemitism worldwide to ensure safety for Diaspora Jewry and a significant connection to the state of Israel. The October 7 attack only showed the extent of antisemitism around the world and the importance of activism to fight hate worldwide.
What better show of activism than lighting the Hanukkah menorah in public? During the event, Jewish activists lit the first Hanukkah candle in the US, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Cyprus, Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Azerbaijan, France, Canada, Argentina, Panama, Chile, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, and Germany. Soldiers fighting in Gaza even tuned in to light their own menorah.
“Hanukkah is all about miracles and the courage and heroism of the Maccabees,” Professor Daniel Fainstein said in an interview. During the event, Fainstein, dean of the Jewish Studies department at the Hebraic University of Mexico, led a livestreamed candle lighting in Mexico City where participants sang traditional Jewish prayers and songs with Mexican-inspired melodies. He said it was very impressive to see Jews around the world with the same rituals, traditions, and even melodies.
“This helped strengthen the sense of Jewish peoplehood,” he said, adding, “Judaism is a shared destiny. It means we all have a belonging. We now need more grassroots actions and more creativity. We need new networks and ways to communicate to strengthen this dialog and build hope.”
Fainstein recently published a study about Jews in Latin America. His research analyzed multiple focus groups to understand the conception of Jews in the region. “We are suffering with our brothers and sisters in Israel,” he said. “This event strengthened the sense of family among Jews worldwide.”
Fainstein said his community is very connected to UnitED, a joint venture led by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and Herzog College tasked with strengthening Jewish schools in the Diaspora. The organization helps managers and educators engage with Jewish education adapted to different geographical areas, cultures, and languages.
On the other side of the world in Vienna, Austria, roughly 130 Israelis gathered for their candle lighting organized by the local ICE, Israeli Community Europe, community. Founded four years ago by Tehila and Netanel Darmon, ICE is under Mosaic United, one of the organizations behind the livestream event.
“Imagine what it’s like to be far away from your home,” Lital Geva, one of the organizers said in an interview. “You have friends and colleagues, but no one understands you. It was super meaningful to everyone who came.”
Her husband, Eden Geva, agrees. “Israelis may be ambivalent about Israeli politics, or may feel disconnected, but due to the situation found themselves lonely. A lot of people came to get support from the Israeli community. Everyone is going through the same experience.”
The Vienna event commended all the heroes of the ongoing war. Their stories were scattered on all the tables where attendees congregated to support each other.
The candle lighting event took place on December 7, exactly two months after the devastating October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel when around 1,200 people were murdered and an estimated 240 were taken hostage. So far, roughly 100 hostages have been released.
During the Hanukkah event, Doron and Yoni Asher were honored with lighting the first candle. Doron and their daughters Raz, 5, and Aviv, 2, were kidnapped on October 7 and released on November 24. Earlier in November, Yoni Asher participated in a delegation to Brussels organized by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs where he spoke in front of the European parliament. He was among a group of family members of the murdered and abducted victims of October 7th who traveled to Europe and the United States for meetings with government officials, Jewish communities, opinion makers and international media. When his family was returned from Gaza he continued to advocate for freedom of all the hostages.
“I personally cannot say ‘Happy Hanukkah’ because there are still hostages and we want them home,” Yoni Asher said before lighting the candle. “When they are home, it will be a happy holiday.”
The event featured testimony from other victims of the attack, heroes, and family members fighting for the return of their loved ones. Other participants included people working to fight antisemitism worldwide, volunteers who arrived in Israel before Hanukkah, and college students on American campuses.
Talia Dror, the finance vice president of Cornellians for Israel, spoke about her experience witnessing antisemitism at the Cornell University Campus and her speech at the US Congress. “We’re taking a massive menorah to the center of campus and we’re going to publicly light it in front of everyone, not just the Jews, everyone. And we’re going to show the campus how proud we are of being Jewish even in the face of adversity.”
Many on-campus events are supported by Mosaic United, a nonprofit organization founded to strengthen engagement among young Jews, ages 12-35. Founded in 2015 in collaboration with the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs and other Jewish organizations, Mosaic’s programs have helped more than 115,000 students strengthen their Jewish identities and connection to Israel through tailored experiences and partnerships.
The Hanukkah lighting even featured a speech by US President Joe Biden, who said, “Jewish culture and values are an essential part of who we are. Jewish Heritage is American Heritage. That is who we are as a people. In America, we celebrate together.”
With candles lit around the globe, the event’s purpose was to dispel darkness and show solidarity and support around the world. It proved that the power of light prevails.