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Hanukkah Lights Shine Brighter in Darkness Surrounding Israel During 'Festival of Lights,' 2023

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JERUSALEM, Israel – Thursday night marked the first night of Hanukkah in Israel and around the world. It's a celebration of how the Jewish people overcame a wicked ruler and experienced a miracle of light more than two thousand years ago.

Hanukkah – also known as the Festival of Lights – commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem by Judah and the Maccabees. 

At a ceremony in Jerusalem, Rabbi Eitiel Goldwicht of Aish Israel told CBN News, “We’re standing opposite the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. This is where the Second Temple stood.  At that time period Jewish people were living here as the Jewish people with a Jewish Temple, and the Greek Empire was taking over the whole entire world; and they decided to impose their Hellenistic views onto the residents of Israel, saying, you must live in this Hellenistic lifestyle.”  

The Greeks banned Jewish practices, and their ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes, desecrated the Temple. The outnumbered Maccabees rebelled and defeated the rulers of the known world.

The miracle of Hanukkah came when the Maccabees went to rededicate the Temple. While only one day's supply of consecrated oil remained, it miraculously lasted for eight days. 

“That’s what the Maccabees represented, Rabbi Goldwicht explained. "It was a time of darkness. We were surrounded by much larger armies and enemies but we stood up for what was right for those values that this Temple Mount represents, and eventually we won – and the story of our victory is the story that we are back here –that the story of the Jewish people is still going on.” 

Jerusalem's Western Wall is features one of the major public lightings of the Hanukkiah, the 9-branched candelabrum lit during the holiday. Hannukah is celebrated this way every year in Jerusalem, but this year was different, with the memories of the horrors of October 7th, and the anguish of many of the hostages still remaining in captivity in the Gaza Strip. 

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A Jewish American, Michael Swick, came to take part in the ceremony. He said, "With us feeling the relevance and immediacy of what happened so many years ago to us, of us being under attack by those who hate us, those who don’t want us to live anymore – so, it’s obviously much more heartfelt than I think I’ve ever had Hannukah in my life.”  

Swick added,  “We feel especially in America right now, uncertain about our safety and our future.” 

Allen Staller, another participant from the U.S., noted, “This Hannukah is more special because I feel that we’re re-living what happened thousands of years ago with the anti-Semitism in the world, with what happened in October and I feel this is something that has to unite the Jewish people.”

“The bottom line is that we say (Hebrew) on the miracles that we see then and we see now," said Israeli resident Chaim Liebtat. "These miracles will continue because this is why, that’s what Hannukah’s all about. Remember, Hanukkah comes at the time, that’s the darkest time of the year, so, at the darkest time of the year, we bring light to the world.” 

Here in Jerusalem's Old City, the Hanukkiahs are lit outside the building. There is one hanukkiah for each family in the building. They're meant to be outside for two reasons: to publicize the miracle and dispel the darkness.

As Jews worldwide begin the Hanukkah holiday, a sign of international support came in Germany, where Chancellor Olaf Scholz lit the first candle of a public menorah at the Brandenburg Gate – the first time a German leader has taken part in the ceremony.

"I wish that the candle of Hanukkah will shine far beyond this square and much longer than just for the eight days of Hanukkah. Hanukkah stands for hope and confidence. Both are especially needed these days,” Scholz proclaimed.

Rabbi Goldwicht described the intensity surrounding the holiday in 2023. “This year’s Hannukah is obviously extra special because we find ourselves in a time period here in Israel, but really all across the world, where people are fighting the Jewish light," he said."They’re hating Jews without even knowing the facts. They’re hating Jews because they’re Jews.  And that’s what we’re standing up to fight against.”  

This year, many Jews light the candles for the soldiers they call the modern-day Maccabees on the front lines in Gaza and for those hostages in darkness who can't light their own.

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