Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pan-European Chanukah Celebration

Fuelled by doughnuts and latkes aplenty, more than 500 revellers of all ages gathered in the heart of Brussels last Sunday for an historic Chanukah candle lighting celebration billed as the first pan-European event of its kind.

Specially-arranged buses brought community members from Germany and Holland while many more descended on the city from West and East of the continent for the European Council of Jewish Communities event, held in Rond-Point Schuman just metres from the EU Commission building.
The gathering, for which the European Union gave the green light, was held under the banner Am Israel Chai.

"I'm absolutely overwhelmed," UK-based ECJC president Jonathan Joseph told the Jewish News after Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik of Milan ascended a giant chanukiah to kindle the first light. "To stand here literally in the shadow of the EU building with so many people, Jews of all ages and all backgrounds from many of the countries in Europe, I don't mind saying I was moved beyond words. I hope this will be the beginning of an annual Chanukah celebration in Brussels and will continue forever."

Saying that European Jewry had not so far engaged enough with the European Union, he expressed hope that "EU leaders will see that we are now seriously intending to engage actively. This is just a first step in bringing forward to the EU our Civil Society programmes".

Amid scenes reminiscent of dancing at a Jewish wedding and as traditional songs including Adon Olam and Moshiach reverberated around the area, one of the party-goers Michael Zar, 32, said: "It shows unity of the Jewish people. Many people don't know each other but our Jewish identity unifies us, we celebrate the same music".

Among those attending from London was Maqsood Ahmed, senior advisor on Muslim communities at the Department of Communities and Local Government, who described the gathering as "a real festival". He added: "I think we need to be celebrating the light of all faiths and all cultures including Chanukah."

The public event - which was followed by a V.I.P reception at the residence of Israeli Ambassador to the EU Ran Curiel - was held in partnership with the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, World Congress of Russian Jewry and the Ukrainian Jewish Congress and supported locally by the European Jewish Community Centre and Chabad.

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