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For the first time ever, Turkey hosted a public Hanukkah celebration.

State officials were among those who attended the first public menorah lighting in the republic's history.

It began, like all great things do, with a Twitter poll.

Ivo Molinas, chief editor of Shalom newspaper in Turkey, asked his 3,200 followers if they would like to see a Hanukkah candle lighting take place in a public square in Istanbul.

Over 3,700 people responded, 40% of whom said that would be a pretty good idea. While not a resounding "yes," it was enough.


People flocked in droves to Istanbul’s historic Ortaköy Square, where they were treated to traditional Hanukkah songs and the lighting of a giant menorah.


This lavish and public celebration of the Festival of Lights marks an important step forward in Turkey's relationship with and treatment of its Jewish community.

If I were to provide 100% of the context necessary to understand how significant this is, this article would need to be several pages long. But all you need to know is that Turkey has a long and complicated history of anti-Semitism that stretches back to the 18th century.

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has faced a fair amount of criticism himself for making anti-Semitic remarks. Notably, he criticized The New York Times, saying that "Jewish capital" was behind some allegedly inflammatory coverage of his campaign.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photo by Adem Altan/Getty Images.

Recently, Turkish leaders have tried to repair their broken relationship with the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world.

Erdoğan made a statement at the beginning of Hanukkah last week, saying in part:

"I wish peace, happiness and welfare to all Jews, primarily Turkey’s Jewish citizens who are an inseparable part of our society, on the occasion of Hanukkah."

While celebrated by the 17,000+ Jewish people in Turkey, Hanukkah was largely confined to private homes and synagogues — much like the Jews in the Hanukkah story, who had to hide in caves to study the Torah and practice their religion in secret for fear of persecution from Greek-Syrian soldiers.

Sunday's menorah lighting marked the first public celebration of Hanukkah in modern Turkey's history.


It was organized by the Beşiktaş Municipality and the district mayor from the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Among those in attendance were various heads of state and the head of Turkey's Jewish community, Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, who took the time to give "heartfelt thanks" to Turkey, according to Daily Sabah.

The consul generals of the United States, Spain, and Israel were also in attendance. District Mayor Murat Hazinedar lit the menorah along with Chief Rabbi İzak Haleva and wished for the Hanukkah candles to "enlighten the world."


While the menorah lighting was a beautiful public gesture, Turkey still has a long way to go.

Many believe the Jewish community in Turkey is shrinking, as young Jews emigrate in large numbers from the country and seek higher education elsewhere. There are many reasons for this, but among them is the fact that Turkey's history and current climate of anti-Semitism cause many in the Jewish community feel unsafe and unwelcome.

Public demonstrations of acceptance like this are the way things move forward.

Sometimes all you need is one candle to enlighten the world.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

I have plenty of space.

This article originally appeared on 04.09.16


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