Olaf Scholz became the first German chancellor to light Berlin’s central Hanukkah menorah, in what he called a sign of “solidarity” with Jews amid a surge of antisemitism during the Israel-Hamas war.
Olaf Scholz lit the first candle on the first day of Hanukkah and told the crowd in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate that this year’s commemoration is even more significant than ever.
“This is particularly important at this time,” Scholz told the Berlin crowd on Thursday after lighting the first candle on a 10-meter (30-foot) menorah, adding that the fact that this event was happening “in the heart of our capital” is a clear message that Jewish citizens in Germany have a “fundamental right to be visible.”
He said it was “sad and frightening” that members of Germany’s Jewish communities are living in fear once again. He called the Hanukkah celebration “a symbol of hope and confidence and a symbol of the inseparable affiliation of the Jewish faith and Jewish fellow citizens to this, our country.”
Several top-ranking politicians, including Bundestag President Bärbel Bas, Berlin Mayor Kai Wegner, and Israeli Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor were in attendance, as well as relatives of Itai Svirsky, a German-Israeli who was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists.
‘More light, more joy, more Jewish awareness’
Scholz spoke of the attacks by Hamas on Israel on October 7 and the number of antisemitic incidents in Germany since, which have reportedly risen by over 300%, to an average of 29 reported incidents a day. Police presence stepped up at synagogues and other Jewish institutions throughout the country.
“Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel was also directed against humanity itself,” Scholz said.
Germany, like Israel, the United States and several other countries, designated the militant Islamist group Hamas a terrorist organization.
“We do not accept it when Jewish fellow citizens have to be afraid to live their religion, their culture and their everyday lives openly, when they exercise their fundamental right to be visible — a right that all people in our society have, without distinction,” the chancellor added.
The host of the Berlin event, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, praised Germany and Scholz as beacons of democracy. The message of Hanukkah is “light over darkness, democracy over tyranny,” Teichtal said.
He called for “more light, more joy, more Jewish awareness. That is our answer.”
Rising antisemitic incidents in Germany
DW’s Nina Haase said the annual event was even more symbolic and poignant this year, given the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza.
“This is an event that has been going on in Berlin since 2008,” Haase told DW TV. “It’s a festival where the Jewish community in Germany celebrates its existence and stresses the fact that Jewish life is a part of German society’s life.
“This year the organizers said that the message coming out of the event this year is more that Jewish life needs to be protected also in Germany,” Haase said.
The eight-day Hanukkah festival runs this year from December 7 to 15, with a new candle lit every night at dusk.
Source : DW