Turkish Jews light the menorah during first public celebration of Hanukkah in republic’s history
Photo credit Haymi BeharTurkey’s Jewish citizens have lit the menorah during the first public celebration of Hanukkah in the republic’s history, which was held in Istanbul’s Ortaköy district with the attendance of state officials.
The celebrations began at 6 p.m. on Dec. 13 in Istanbul’s historical Ortaköy Square by the European shore of the Bosphorus Strait, where traditional Hanukkah songs were sang while a giant menorah was lit on a stage.
The event was organized by the Beşiktaş Municipality and the district mayor from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Murat Hazinedar wished for the Hanukkah candles to “enlighten the world,” before lighting the menorah with Chief Rabbi İzak Haleva.
The head of Turkey’s Jewish Community, Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, also delivered a speech emphasizing national unity and extended his “heartfelt thanks” to Turkey, according to reports by Daily Sabah.
In addition to participants from different religious backgrounds, Turkish and foreign state officials also stood with Jewish citizens in celebrating their holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights.
Officials from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Istanbul Governor’s Office, Foreign Ministry and office of the mufti in Istanbul attended the event, alongside the consul generals of the United States, Spain and Israel.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu also issued statements on Dec. 7 marking the Turkish Jewish community’s Hanukkah.
Erdoğan underscored that Turkey had become an important regional player because it was part of a civilization that accepted social, cultural and political differences as richness, while emphasizing the need to respect freedom of religion.
“With these thoughts, I wish peace, happiness and welfare to all Jews, primarily Turkey’s Jewish citizens who are an inseparable part of our society, on the occasion of Hanukkah,” Erdoğan said.
Davutoğlu also warned against marginalization and discrimination while extending his celebration.
“On the occasion of Hanukkah, I wish a culture of peace and tolerance to dominate the world and an immediate end to violence and hatred,” he remarked.
Both leaders pointed to the historical relationship between Turks and Jews, especially the Ottoman Empire’s welcoming of thousands of Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition towards the end of the fifteenth century.
Hanukkah, Hebrew for “to dedicate,” is an eight-day-long Jewish holiday commemorating the military victory of the ancient Israelites whereby they succeeded in rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and restoring the menorah.
Celebrated by lighting the menorah each night by adding an additional candle to the number from the previous night, it probably the most well-known Jewish holiday due to its proximity to Christmas.
The public celebration of Hanukkah in Turkey marks a historical event, as it is the first such event since the founding of the modern republic in 1923.