Turkey’s Jewish citizens lit the menorah on Sunday night, during the first public celebration of Hanukkah in the republic’s history. The celebration was held in Istanbul’s Ortaköy district and various state officials were in attendance.
The celebrations began in Istanbul’s historic Ortaköy Square which is located by the European shore of the Bosphorus Strait. Traditional Hanukkah songs were sung while a giant menorah was lit on a stage amid cheers and blessings.
The event was organized by the Beşiktaş Municipality and the local Jewish community. The district mayor from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Murat Hazinedar who attended the event offered a blessing, saying, "may the Hannukah candles enlighten the world,” before lighting the menorah together with Chief Rabbi İzak Haleva.
The head of Turkey’s Jewish Community, Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, also delivered a speech emphasizing national unity and extending his “heartfelt thanks” to Turkey.
Officials from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, Istanbul Governor’s Office, Foreign Ministry and office of the mufti in Istanbul attended the event. Also in attendance were the consul generals of the United States, Spain and Israel.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has recently begun making headway in bridging the gap between his country and Israel over talk of a natural gas deal, and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, issued statements at the beginning of Hannukah wishing prosperity for the Jewish people, and especially Turkish Jews.
“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,” Erdoğan said.
Erdoğan underscored that Turkey had become an important regional player because it was part of a civilization that accepted social, cultural and political differences as richness, while emphasizing the need to respect freedom of religion.
Davutoğlu also warned against marginalization and discrimination while extending his celebratory greetings.
“On the occasion of Hanukkah, I wish a culture of peace and tolerance to dominate the world and an immediate end to violence and hatred,” he remarked.
Both leaders pointed to the historical relationship between Turks and Jews, especially during the time of the Ottoman Empire when Turks welcomed thousands of Sephardic Jews who were fleeing the Inquisition, into their lands.
The public celebration of Hanukkah in Turkey marks a historical event, as it is the first such event since the founding of the modern republic in 1923.