World leaders mark Hanukkah in shadow of Gaza war, soaring antisemitism

Germany’s Scholz becomes first chancellor to light Brandenburg Gate Menorah, calls for immediate release of hostages; Canada’s Trudeau notes ‘incredibly difficult’ months for Jews

Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal (2nd R) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) light the giant Menorah for Hanukkah, in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate on December 7, 2023. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)
Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal (2nd R) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (R) light the giant Menorah for Hanukkah, in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate on December 7, 2023. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP)

World leaders on Thursday observed the first night of the Hanukkah festival by extending greetings to their Jewish communities and acknowledging their anguish over the Israel-Hamas war and rising antisemitism across the globe.

Donning a kippa, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz became the first in his role to light the menorah at Brandenburg Gate in the center of Berlin, where he called for the “immediate” release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, accompanied by Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, the rabbi of Berlin’s Jewish community.

“I hope the light of this candelabra will shine across this square long beyond the eight days of the Hanukkah celebration,” Scholz said.

“It stands for hope and optimism. We especially need both in these days after the Hamas terror attack on Israel.

“I am happy that many citizens are supporting the Jewish community in word and deed and showing compassion and solidarity with our Jewish neighbors, friends and colleagues,” he said.

“That is why I’m also happy to be here today,” he stated, adding that he wanted to underscore that Jews were an “inextricable part” of German society.

Scholz called it “unacceptable” for Jews in Germany “to have to be afraid to practice their religion, their culture.”

The ceremony, held under tight security, was attended by two family members of a German-Israeli hostage, Itay Svirsky. They lit the torch that was handed to Scholz to ignite the first candle.

In Germany alone, there were 994 antisemitic incidents from the beginning of the war on October 7 until November 9, amounting to 29 per day on average, according to the Federal Association of Departments for Research and Information on Antisemitism.

This marked a 320 percent rise compared to the previous year’s daily average.

Antisemitism has skyrocketed around the world since war erupted between Israel and Hamas after the Hamas-led October 7 massacres, in which some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

The majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians of all ages. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.

Israel has launched a military campaign to remove Hamas from power in Gaza, but the offensive has ignited worldwide protests, which have included common calls for the elimination of the Jewish state.

US President Joe Biden posted a photo of a lit menorah at the White House.

“The story of Hanukkah teaches us that even a little bit of light, wherever it is found, can dispel the darkness and illuminate a path forward. From our family to yours, Jill and I wish you and your loved ones a Chanukah Sameach, a Happy Hanukkah!” the president wrote on X.

In a video posted on social media, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted the “incredibly difficult” last two months for Jewish people, since the October 7 attack, and the “disturbing rise in antisemitism” that followed.

“I want to make it clear, our government stands with you. We will never accept any form of antisemitism or hatred and we will always speak up for Israel’s right to exist, and right to defend itself,” he said.

“The story of Hanukkah is a reminder that light shines brighter than darkness, and right always prevails over wrong. It’s always a reminder of the resilience of the Jewish people, who’ve persevered through periods of unfathomable difficulty before, and Canada will continue to stand with Israel and Jewish communities around the world as we persevere through this as well,” he stated.

“I hope that the lessons of Hanukkah and the glowing light of the menorah bring you hope during this difficult time. I also hope you can find comfort and peace as you celebrate the traditions,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky held a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony with a group of rabbis, video of which he shared on his social media accounts.

“The sacred Hanukkah lights, lit these days, remind us once again that light always prevails over evil. And of the value of life, which is worth fighting for,” Zelensky wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “My best wishes to the Jewish community on Hanukkah!”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave his “warmest greetings to our Jewish friends in India and around the world on the occasion of Hanukkah.”

“May this festival bring peace, hope and brightness in everybody’s lives,” he wrote on X, tagging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Indian President Droupadi Murmu wished her Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog “Chag Hanukkah Sameach.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also extended greetings to the Jewish community.

“May you find comfort and hope as you honor the traditions that have sustained you for generations, and may the lights of Chanukah shine brightly through darkness,” he wrote on X.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wished a  “Happy Hanukkah to the Jewish communities in Ukraine celebrating during wartime, as well as to all Jewish families around the world!”

“May the lights of Menorah candles fill your homes, and may faith in good always triumph against forces of evil.”

“As Jews around the world mark Chanukah, we all feel the contrast between the darkness of recent times and the light of this festival,” wrote UK’s Labour Party chief Keir Starmer. “May the candles of this Festival of Lights bring hope to us all. Chanukah Sameach.”

In a video posted on social media, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said the miracle of Hanukkah “reminds us that nothing is impossible.”

“This is especially important at a time when there is so much hatred, cruelty, and growing antisemitism in the world. I truly believe that the miracle of Hanukkah, faith, and wisdom will help us to overcome all obstacles.

“May the light of Hanukkah candles bring peace and tranquility to your homes and hearts! Happy Hanukkah!”

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