For the first time in modern Turkey's history, Jewish citizens held Sunday a public menorah lighting ceremony. The event was held in Istanbul's Ortaköy district and was attended and endorsed by state officials.
The ceremony was organized by the local municipality and the district leader from the Republican People's Party Murat Hazinedar wished for the Hanukkah candles to “enlighten the world,” before the menorah was lit, according to Turkish news outlet Hürriyet Daily News. A number of other government officials and members of the Jewish population, including Turkey’s Jewish community leader Ishak Ibrahimzadeh, attended the event, which coincided with the eighth and final night of Hanukkah. Ibrahimzadeh gave a speech that called for national unity and offered "heartfelt thanks" to Turkey, according to the Turkish news site Daily Sabah.
A swath of people from different religions stood in the square to celebrate the holiday known as the Festival of Lights, images from the ceremony showing a packed crowd watching the menorah be lit.
Dünya değişmiyor dostlarım, sadece asırlardır var olan bir mirası yeniden canlandırıyoruz. Birlikte yaşayabilmeyi.. pic.twitter.com/sLI6U2mnX7
— Av. Murat Hazinedar (@MHazinedar) December 14, 2015
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivered last week a Hanukkah message that called for continued acceptance of all religions and people, which he said was a reason Turkey had become an important nation in the region. "With these thoughts, 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,” Erdogan said, according to Hürriyet. "I wish a culture of peace and tolerance to dominate the world and an immediate end to violence and hatred.”
Turkey is home to some 17,300 Jews, most of whom live in Istanbul, making it the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world, according to the Times of Israel. The historic Kal Kadoş Ha Gadol Synagogue, also called the Great Synagogue, in Turkey's Edirne province was reopened in March after about half a decade of government-funded renovation. It was part of a relaxation of curbs against minority populations put into place by Erdogan. Reuters reported at the time that many of Turkey's Jews were on edge and feared growing anti-Israel sentiment.