Hanukkah in Berlin: German president calls Jewish community 'a gift'

Europe's largest menorah is once again aglow as Germany celebrates the start of the Jewish Festival of Lights. Noting Germany's dark history, President Steinmeier condemned the resurgence of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal celebrated the beginning of Hanukkah on Sunday by lighting a massive menorah in Berlin.

Despite rainy weather, they lit the first light on the 10-meter (33-foot) menorah, which is the largest in Europe.

Steinmeier noted that the ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate comes 80 years after the Nazi's anti-Jewish "Night of Broken Glass" pogrom and in the shadow of the Holocaust.

He said he was thankful for the Jewish communities in Germany, adding that "it is a gift that we can reach out to join hands over the chasm of our history."

Lifestyle | 07.12.2015

Hanukkah candles alight around the world

Festival of Lights

Hanukkah literally means dedication or consecration. The menorah was a candlestick in the temple whose flames should always burn. And in Berlin, the traditional eight-armed chandelier shines every year for a total of eight days during Hanukkah. This year, it's the Brandenburg Gate that's being illuminated to celebrate the Festival of Lights.

Hanukkah candles alight around the world

Hanukkah at its origins

A Hanukkah menorah also burns at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The symbol is reminiscent of the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BC, and a miracle.

Hanukkah candles alight around the world

The oil miracle

As the story goes, a tiny lamp with just enough oil to burn for one single day, continued to burn for a total of eight days. That's why the Hanukkah candelabra has eight lights, and the festival lasts for eight days. Each day, another light is kindled until eventually all eight are alight.

Hanukkah candles alight around the world

Time for reflection

During the Hanukkah festival, the faithful gather in Jewish communities to light candles and read religious texts. In synagogues, psalms of praise are spoken, and special passages from the Torah are recited.

Hanukkah candles alight around the world

Family time

Hanukkah is a joyous festival. In some countries, it is a public holiday, but is usually celebrated among families or with close friends. The menorah is lit immediately after nightfall. Prayers are spoken, songs are sung, and the story of the Hanukkah miracle is told.

Hanukkah candles alight around the world

The blessing of the oil

It is common practice to consume foods fried in oil - such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (deep-fried yeast pastries). Some customs that originated in the Diaspora are now also observed in Israel - such as exchanging gifts, or spinning a dreidel.

Hanukkah candles alight around the world

Kitsch and crafts

In addition to traditional Hanukkah products such as culinary specialties and gift items, kitsch and crafts have become an integral part of the festivities - among them Torah scrolls made of plush, or Hanukkah menorahs decorated with Walt Disney motives.

Hanukkah candles alight around the world

Gifts and candlelight

Hanukkah is also a festival for children. They receive gifts, as here in Shanghai. There are sweets, burning candles - and a lot of time to play. In Israel, schools remain closed during the eight-day Hanukkah festival. Work continues in shops and offices.

Condemnation of anti-Semitism

The history of the Nazi persecution of the Jews is "the obligation and the responsibility" of the Germans, "under which there will be no end," he said.

Germany's culture of remembrance and atonement for the Holocaust and Nazi crimes has come under fire in recent months by members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

Steinmeier also condemned the anti-Semitic rhetoric and hate that has once again risen in Germany and across Europe in speeches, on the streets, at schools and online.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks before lighting a menorah for Hanukkah at Brandenburg Gate

The Jewish festival of Hanukkah is an eight-day festival that celebrates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE as well as the miracle of the temple's menorah which stayed lit for eight days despite there only being enough oil for one day.

During the festival, families gather together to light candles on their own menorahs, recite prayers, play games and eat fried foods.

The festival this year begins on the evening of December 2 and ends eight days later in the evening on December 10.

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