TEL AVIV – For the first time in a century, Turkey’s Jewish community openly celebrated Hanukkah on Sunday with a candle-lighting ceremony in a main square in Istanbul, Turkey’s English-language newspaper the Daily Sabah reported.
The celebration was organized by the Beşiktaş Municipality and attended by Mayor Murat Hazinedar who stated in a speech that “the Hanukkah candles enlighten the whole World.” Chief Rabbi İzak Haleva then lit the menorah for the eighth and final night of the festival.
The head of Turkey’s Jewish Community Ishak Ibrahimzadeh also spoke, offering “heartfelt thanks” to the Turkish state, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government officials, as well as “dear Turkey as a whole.”
Many members of Turkey’s Jewish community are Sefardi Jews whose ancestors sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire following the Spanish Inquisition at the end of the fifteenth century. According to the Daily Sabah, reports that many Turkish Jews want to exploit Spain’s new law of return for descendants of the Spanish expulsion and emigrate there are false.
The Turkish Jewish community issued a statement refuting any claims of anti-Semitism on the part of the Turkish government, saying that “Pressure from the state is out of the question.”