Several Hundred Istanbul Jews Hold First Public Hanukkah Candle-lighting Ceremony in Decades

The initiative to hold a public lighting of candles on Hanukkah grew out of an online survey that Turkish Jewish journalist Ivo Molinas reportedly started on Twitter.

A screenshot of young Turkish Jews lighting Hanukkah candles in Istanbul, December 2015.
Screenshot from salom.com.tr

Several hundred Jews in Istanbul participated in what is said to have been the city’s first public lighting of Hanukkah candles in decades.

The ceremony took place on Sunday evening in Ortakoy, a neighborhood on the European banks of the Bosporus Straits. Leading the celebration was Isaac Ibrahimzadeh, the president of the Jewish Community of Turkey, who focused his speech on the reopening in March with government funding of an ancient synagogue in the northwestern city of Edirne.

“We have experienced a turning point in Edirne, where we are living a miracle,” he was quoted as saying by the online edition of the Turkish Jewish weekly Salom. The weekly also reported the lighting ceremony was the first in recent history.

Turkish Jews, who were targeted in several deadly terrorist attacks in 2003, are considered under threat from Islamists. About 20,000 Jews live in Turkey.

The community’s activities take place under heavy guard, which is also present around all its synagogues and institutions, including the offices of Salom. In recent years, prominent figures from the community have begun to publicly criticize President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for what they call his party’s use of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli speech for political purposes.

The initiative to hold a public lighting of candles on Hanukkah grew out of an online survey that the Turkish Jewish journalist Ivo Molinas started on Twitter, Salom reported.

Of the thousands of people who participated, 40 percent said such an event would be a good idea, while 19 percent it was not possible and another 17 percent said it would be “meaningless.”