During the night of December 6, Parisian Jews were able to host their 27th annual Hanukkah menorah lighting at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, despite the “état d’urgence” that French authorities declared in light of the November 13 terrorist attacks that rocked Paris.
“France has become a dangerous country for Jews,” Gidéon Kouts, a Paris-based correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Maariv told Le Courrier International back in March. “The most dangerous, even, if you take into account the number of people killed or injured in anti-Semitic attacks.”
On paper, the état d’urgence includes a ban on public gatherings, and coupled with the ongoing state of emergency, there was not much hope for a public Hanukkah menorah lighting. However, this year’s miracle of Hanukkah made this public display in light of recent terrorism possible.
“We are very happy that the police took into consideration the possibility of doing it and gave us the right permission,” said Rabbi Mendel Azimov, president of Chabad of Paris.
According to Azimov, officials requested that the Parisian Jewish community to push off their public lighting ceremony until after the end of COP21, which is the United Nations climate negotiations that are currently happening right outside of Paris.
However, after a meeting with the Service de la Protection de la Communauté Juive, or Jewish Community Protection Service, the Parisian Jewish community was given the go-ahead to hold community menorah lightings. While the public lightings were allowed to proceed, the total number of public lightings in Paris went from 30 down to 11.
During the event, which was broadcast live in Jerusalem and New York, the Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia, the President of the Consistoire Central Israélite de France Joel Mergui and Azimov lit the first candle. In addition, 1,500 people gathered in the viewing area in Paris and the nearby parking lot was filled with minivans with electric menorahs on the top of the roof.
Beth Loubavitch, the group that organizes the public menorah lightings, posted a statement on its website that stressed the importance of Hanukkah to a city that is still dealing with the fallout from the worst attack on its soil since World War II.
“The eternal message of the menorah lights has taken on a special significance in the current time period, in that the forces of oppression and darkness have made their presence known,” the statement read. “The victory of the light is a story for our times.”
The menorah had a French flag on each side while someone in the crowd proudly and energetically waved the French flag emblazoned with the word mashia’h or messiah. All the while, a Chassidic band sang nigunim to the tune of the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger, an actor and former governor of California, also made a surprise appearance at the event, since he was in town for the COP21 UN climate talks. He danced to the joyous music with a bunch of Lubavitch rabbis at the foot of the stage.
At the Eiffel Tower, Rabbi Azimov said that he believed that this Hanukkah would be an incredibly symbolic one for Parisian Jews.
“People will feel something different and encouraging,” he said. “The whole message of Hanukkah is that you transform darkness into light.”