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Ukrainian Jews celebrate Hanukkah – the Festival of Lights – amid widespread blackouts

Anti-tank hedgehogs are seen next to a giant menorah during a Hanukkah ceremony at Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, Dec. 18, 2022. (Photo: REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko)

Dozens of Ukrainian Jews gathered in the central square of Kyiv, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, marking the first night of Hanukkah on Sunday by lighting reportedly the tallest menorah in Europe.

Ten months after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, this year’s celebration was loaded with special symbolic value.

The lighting ceremony was organized by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine. It's chairman, Rabbi Meir Stambler drew parallels between Ukraine’s current situation – fighting the invasion from Putin's Russia – and that of the Jews at the time of the Hanukkah story as the Maccabees rose up against the tyrannical King Antiochus IV.

“We are actually now living through the same situation,” said Stambler. “This is a war between darkness and light.”

Ukrainians, especially in Kyiv, literally face darkness as Russian aerial attacks – targeting the Ukrainian power grid – have caused widespread blackouts, leaving swathes of cities in the dark and without heating.

Ukraine’s Jewish President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recorded a video wishing Jews in Ukraine and around the world ‘Happy Hanukkah.’ He also noted the similarities between then and now.

“I wish the Jewish community of Ukraine and all Jews around the world a happy Hanukkah. Those who were fewer defeated those who were more. Light defeated darkness. It will be the same this time,” he said, ending the video with the Hebrew greeting “Chag sameach.”

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, whose paternal grandmother was Jewish, lit the first candle at the ceremony, accompanied by ambassadors from Israel, the United States, Japan, Poland, Canada and France.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink delivered her holiday greeting on social media: “It was an honor to light the first candle of Chanukah with the Jewish community in Kyiv. In the spirit of Chanukah, Ukrainians create light, even in the face of the Kremlin’s barbaric attempt to bring darkness. Chag sameach!”

Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky also offered a greeting to all Ukraine: “I wish for the people of Ukraine all of that which Hanukkah symbolizes. I wish there was light on every Ukrainian house ... and I wish you victory.”

Chief foreign affairs correspondent at The Wall Street Journal, Yaroslav Trofimov, described Hanukkah as “a holiday of fighting for independence, against all odds and against empire.” 

“Hanukkah has a special meaning in Kyiv today. A Festival of Lights in the city kept dark by Russian missiles,” Trofimov said.

Just hours after the menorah lighting, Kyiv awoke in the morning hours to a massive Russian kamikaze drone attack. It was the third Russian air attack on Kyiv in just six days. According to Reuters, the Ukrainian Air Force said its air defenses shot down 30 drones.

At the same time, Israel continues to face criticism for not providing Ukraine with more military equipment. David, an Israeli who traveled to Ukraine nine months ago to help fight the Russians, said that Ukrainians are right to criticize Israel.

“Ukraine has the right to criticize the Israeli government about the lack of support,” David told the Washington Post. 

According to the Post, “Michael Brodsky, the Israeli ambassador to Kyiv, acknowledged he has heard the frustration of some Ukrainian Jews.” 

The ambassador explained, however, that Israel cannot jeopardize its security ties with Russia for the sake of Ukraine.

“No government in Israel is going to jeopardize this interest for anybody else, including the Ukrainians,” Brodsky said in an interview with the Post. According to the ambassador, Israel is on its own, as it does not have the protection of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. 

“Our situation is much more fragile,” he said.

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

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