This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

Rachel Galloway

British Ambassador to Macedonia

Guest blogger for UK in North Macedonia

Part of UK in North Macedonia

10th December 2018 Skopje, North Macedonia

Lighting the lights on International Human Rights Day

This year the 8th day of Chanuckah falls on 10 December, International Human Rights Day. Chanuckah is celebrated as a festival for children. This is the story we tell them.

Long ago, the Jewish people in Israel lived under the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes. He did not want to rule over a place with many religions and cultures so he said that the Jewish people could no longer celebrate their festivals, eat their food, wear their clothes, worship their god or study their religion.

Some people prayed and studied in secret and when the soldiers came they pretended to be playing a game with a dreidel (spinning top). Eventually a group, called the Maccabees, rose up against the King. They fought and, against the odds, they won. After, when they went into the temple, they discovered only enough oil to light the eternal light for one day and it would take 8 days to get more. Miraculously the oil lasted 8 days.

Every year Jewish people remember these events. We light candles in a menorah (candelabra) for 8 days (one the first night, two the second, and so on). We eat foods fried in oil – latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (donuts/крофни). We give and receive chocolate gelt (coins) and presents. And we play games with our children, family and friends.

Most importantly we light the lights because we can. Because we are free to celebrate our religion and culture. Because 2000 years after the events in this story, we are still able to celebrate.

The late Rabbi Hugo Gryn was a child in Auschwitz and in later years told this story. Chanuckah came in Auschwitz, and after fashioning a makeshift menorah, his father melted the precious margarine ration to light a wick for the first night. The young Hugo, outraged, protested. How could he use the food which sustained them in the midst of such horror, just to observe the holiday? His father said: “My child, we know you can live three days without water. You can live three weeks without food. But you cannot live for three minutes without hope.”

In Macedonia, 98% of the Jewish population was murdered in Treblinka during the Holocaust. To be able to light the Chanuckah lights, in the British residence, with representatives of the community and my family and friends in Macedonia was an honour and a privilege. Many of my guests had never been to a Chanuckah party before. But they came, the children played and everyone ate donuts.

This year the 8th day of Chanuckah falls on 10 December, International Human Rights Day. And as we work to protect and defend human rights around the world we should remember the words of Anne Frank: “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

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