Chilean President celebrates Hanukkah as riots rage

President Sebastian Pinera lights Hanukkah candles at La Moneda Palace, as anti-government riots continue.

Tags: Chile Hanukkah
Marcus M. Gilban, JTA , | updated: 22:52

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera lights a Hanukkah candle
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera lights a Hanukkah candle
Courtesy of the Chilean government

The president of Chile lit a Hanukkah candle during one of the country’s few public religious ceremonies that was not canceled due to the unstable social situation.

“The Jewish people have demonstrated a resilience that not only causes astonishment but also motivates deep admiration. Each candle represents a value and each one of those values is what we want for our country,” said President Sebastian Pinera, whose government has been rocked by riots over inequality since October, with at least 26 people killed and thousands more injured and arrested.

Several Jewish and non-Jewish officials attended the Friday ceremony at La Moneda Palace in Santiago, including Israel’s ambassador Marina Rosenberg and the president of the Chilean Jewish community, Gerardo Gorodischer.

“The country must return to normalcy. It is necessary to convey an encouraging message to the people. Canceling a traditional event that we have been celebrating for ten years would not be the best way,” said Marcelo Isaacson, executive director of the Jewish community.

Home to some 15,000 Jews, Chile has had official Hanukkah candle lighting events since 2008.

The country is also believed to host the largest Palestinian Arab community outside of the Arab world, with more than 300,000 members. Recent governments have favored the Palestinians and resolutions against Israel in the United Nations.

The civil protests against Pinera’s government began over a rise in metro fares and the increased cost of living, and have led to calls for Pinera’s resignation and the creation of a new constitution.