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Jews across the UK say Hannukah story ‘more pertinent than ever before’

Hanukkah begins on December 7 this year (Sean Dempsey/PA)
Hanukkah begins on December 7 this year (Sean Dempsey/PA)

The Jewish community has said the Hanukkah story centred on Jewish resistance will be “more pertinent now than ever before” as the war between Israel and Hamas continues.

Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah or the Festival of Lights, runs from December 7 to 15 this year.

After Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7, Jews said they will be marking the occasion in different ways, from attending intimate celebrations to being involved with campaigns to shine a light on the hostages being held by Hamas.

Gary Mond, chairman of the National Jewish Assembly (NJA), told the PA news agency that the “traditions of Hanukkah will continue to be observed” but “many Jews in this country are very fearful at the moment”.

“A lot of Jews feel very much alone in that they don’t believe that they have had a lot of support from non-Jews and that they are facing higher levels of antisemitism than ever before,” said the 64-year-old, who is based in London.

He said smaller family events celebrating Hanukkah are likely to carry on but it is “hard to say” how many Jews will attend public events.

“I know that some of the chabads are organising celebrations and public menorah lightings,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how well attended they are.

“I think that probably the attendance will not be badly affected because when Jews go out and they’re all together with other Jews, there’s perhaps a slightly greater degree of camaraderie and less fearfulness than would otherwise be the case.”

In terms of his own plans, he said: “I think we’ll probably go to the Golders Green chabad at least once during Hanukkah, maybe twice.

Gary Mond said the traditions of Hanukkah will continue to be observed (Gary Mond/PA)

“The National Jewish Assembly is organising a Hanukkah party in the House of Lords and around 150 of our members and guests are coming.”

As the war between Israel and Hamas continues, he said his first thought was for his family.

“I have about 40 relatives in Israel,” he said. “So immediately I was on the phone and I’m relieved to say that there wasn’t a casualty in my family.

“Those in youth to early middle age have been called up – one of them is a medic who is working in Gaza at the moment and is tending to injured troops.”

He added that when he speaks to them, they are “very sanguine”.

“Many Israelis know what the situation is and obviously they’re human, but they have a very big can-do attitude in this situation,” he said.

“When they talk to me, what they talk about all the time is how the family are doing, what they’re doing, where they are.”

Edward Isaacs, president of the Union of Jewish Students (UJS), told PA: “The Hanukkah story is more pertinent now than ever before.”

Around 240 hostages were taken when Hamas raided Israel, with more than 100 freed during a temporary ceasefire.

“We have facilitated a hostage campaign, themed around Hanukkah, with every other youth movement within the British Jewish community,” said 21-year-old Mr Isaacs, who is based in London.

“We are quite literally distributing thousands of Hanukkah candles, all of which come with a picture of a hostage on them, with the slogan ‘We light for those who can’t’, and hashtag ‘bring them home now’.

“We’re asking people to light an extra hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) for those who can’t this year because they’re being held in captivity by Hamas.”

He said he does not think Hanukkah will be celebrated differently after the Hamas attack but it will “have that added meaning”.

Man looking at camera
Edward Isaacs said the Hanukkah story is ‘more pertinent now’ (Edward Isaacs/PA)

“While it is normally a joyous time, I think the focus on Jewish pride and resistance will still be there,” he added.

“But nonetheless, in the back of people’s minds will be the fact that the Jewish people globally are still reeling from the October 7 massacre.”

He said what happened in October is “deeply personal” to Jewish students, adding that he has family in Israel who are “safe and as well as can be”, but was not comfortable sharing further details.

“Jewish students have lost loved ones who have been murdered by Hamas, they have had loved ones who have been taken hostage by Hamas and are dealing with the unprecedented rise of antisemitism on campus, which continues to this day,” he said.

“The wider society must recognise and call out antisemitism when they see it.”

More information about the hostages campaign can be found at http://ujs.org.uk/lightforhostages