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Families of hostages, IDF soldiers light candles to mark beginning of Hanukkah

Head of IDF's Southern Command tells troops: 'You are modern-day Maccabees'

A child holds a candle during a torch march for Israeli hostages, who are being held in the Gaza Strip, as the country celebrates the Jewish festival Hanukkah, in Tel Aviv, Israel, December 7, 2023. (Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)

The first night of Hanukkah was marked with candle lighting both by the families of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and the soldiers fighting in Gaza to secure the release of the hostages and the elimination of Hamas.

The families of the hostages held the candle-lighting ceremony during a rally on Thursday night in Tel Aviv, during which they lit the “Hostages' Menorah” with 138 candles, representing the remaining hostages held captive by Hamas in Gaza. The rally was held to call for the immediate release of the remaining hostages.

Amit Shani, who was taken captive by terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri on Oct. 7, and subsequently released on Nov. 29 as part of the temporary ceasefire deal brokered by Qatar and the U.S., spoke at the candle-lighting event.

“I am excited and happy to stand here tonight on the first candle-lighting night of Hanukkah, here on Israeli soil. I want to thank everyone who worked towards my release and the release of the other hostages. We must keep fighting until the last hostage returns,” he said.

Two young women from Kfar Aza, Raz Itamari and Shani Kaner, whose friends were taken as hostages into Gaza, pleaded for the return of all the hostages.

“We cry out and plead – return all the hostages home now, as soon as possible. You all know what happened on October 7th, you heard the horror stories in the news and read countless posts on social media. We in Kfar Aza have been living a nightmare for 62 days. We lost 63 residents who were brutally murdered, alongside dozens who were kidnapped to Gaza. To our great joy, 11 kidnapped residents have recently returned to us. Along with warm embraces and many tears of joy, they recount in choked-up voices the horrors they endured. We care for their wellbeing. People speak with us of rehabilitation, but we cannot recover without all hostages returning home,” they said.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew also participated in the ceremony, saying that light always triumphs over darkness.

“Within this tragic war, we are reminding here tonight that light will always ultimately triumph over darkness. The United States stands by Israel now and always. We are committed to building here a future of lasting peace and security. We will not cease action until all 138 hostages return home,” Lew said.

Rabbi Michael Melchior, president of Meitarim Network and Norway's chief rabbi also participated in the festivities.

“This place has become holy due to your struggle. Our soldiers fighting on the frontlines operate relentlessly towards bringing the hostages back. Meanwhile, Jewish communities across the world are lighting Hanukkah candles for the hostages alongside us. Not only during wartime do I believe that only together – religious, secular, and traditional – will we succeed. We are one people with one song. On the Hanukkah holiday, I plead in this holy place before the Creator that there will be a miracle and all 138 hostages will return home in peace,” he said.

At the same time, IDF soldiers lit Hanukkah candles in Gaza.

“You are modern-day Maccabees,” Maj.-Gen. Yaron Finkelman, the head of Southern Command, told troops in the Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza.

“This is a long, important and difficult war, and this is a symbolic moment of the lighting the Hanukkah candles… We will continue onwards until victory,” he said.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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