Speaking in front of a giant menorah erected in central London, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said the importance of Jewish Londoners to feel safe enough to display their faith publicly “cannot be overstated or minimised” during an event to mark the fifth night of Chanukah.
The mayor was joined for an intimate Chanukah ceremony in Trafalgar Square Monday evening by President of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, comedian David Baddiel, Rabbi Pinchas Hackenbroch from the United Synagogue, co-chair of the London Jewish Forum, Adrian Cohen, and chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, Keith Black. The ceremony was organised by the Jewish Leadership Council.
Giant menorah on public display during the fifth night of Chanukah outside the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, December 11, 2023
Speaking to the JC in front of the menorah and Christmas tree, Mayor Khan said: “This year, more than any other since I’ve been mayor, and as we see rising levels of antisemitism since the October 7 attack, it’s really important that I make sure I am here to celebrate Chanukah with our community, out and proud.”
Person with Israeli flag draped on their shoulders stands in front of the Trafalgar Square menorah, December 11, 2023 (Credit: Hostage Families Forum UK)
Khan added: “It’s important that not just Jewish Londoners see the menorah behind me, but everyone around the globe sees that in one of the most famous squares in the world, Jewish people are welcome. Yes, we’re celebrating Christmas with our Christmas tree, but we’re also celebrating the fifth night of this Festival of Lights.”
Khan mentioned that he was “very unhappy” with Havering Council’s decision last week to cancel the display of Chanukah candles outside its town hall citing escalating tension in the Middle East – a decision they eventually reversed
Khan said: “I saw the council’s decision as sending the wrong message, allowing those that bully to benefit and win. Imagine the impression felt by Jewish people seeing that, to see that our religion is not to be celebrated publicly. It’s completely the wrong message for our capital city.”
An Israeli flag and giant menorah are displayed in Trafalgar Square during Chanukah, December 11, 2023 (Credit: Hostage Families Forum UK)
Addressing the crowd beforehand, Khan said we “cannot and must not allow conflict from overseas spill over to hatred and division here at home. Antisemitism and hate crime must not be tolerated, and we celebrate rather than denigrate our diversity.
“The story of Chanukah comforts and inspires us. It’s filled with an enduring hope. It reminds us that even in the darkest of times, a brighter future is always possible. Thank you to London’s Jewish communities for always being a source of light, and for the massive contribution you make to our success and the soul of our city.”
Khan also confirmed Sir Mark Rowley’s recent assessment that metropolitan police resources are currently overstretched due to regular pro-Palestinian demonstrations requiring approximately 15,000 police shifts.
Marie van der Zyl said recent weeks had “not been an easy period” for the British Jewish community who, she said, has conducted itself with “dignity, pride, and determination.”
Comedian and author David Baddiel, also spoke at the event, saying it was possible for even Jewish atheists to be “inspired and invigorated” by Jewish tradition, and to take “comfort” in ritual and culture.
David Baddiel addresses a crowd on the fifth night of Chanukah in Trafalgar Square, December 11, 2023
Rabbi Hackenbroch, representing United Synagogue, noted the Hamas terror attack of October 7 as being at the forefront of everyone’s minds, and prayed for the safe return of the hostages still held in Gaza.
March of 150 volunteers holding electronic lights to demand the release of hostages still held by Hamas, London, December 11, 2023 (Credit: Hostage Families Forum UK)
Just a short while after the lighting ceremony, hundreds of volunteers marched from 10 Downing Street to Trafalgar Square carrying electronic lights symbolising the approximately 150 hostages still held captive by Hamas.
The march was sponsored by the Hostages Families Forum UK.