Defying the Darkness, Hanukkah Lighting Goes On in the City of Lights
PARIS—For a city struggling to regain a sense of normalcy after the November 13 terror attacks, Hanukkah celebrations have an even deeper significance this year. But the annual Jewish festival of lights, which kicks off on Sunday, was nearly another casualty of the attacks.
In Paris, the eight-day Jewish holiday is typically marked by several public menorah lightings throughout the city, including one in front of the Eiffel Tower that draws thousands of revelers annually. Under the current state of emergency, however, large gatherings and public demonstrations are banned. Moreover, the terror attacks in January against a kosher grocery store and the Nov. 18 stabbing of a Jewish teacher in Marseille serve as grim reminders that the country's Jews remain a target for extremists.
"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."
Paris police seemed to agree, and put the kibosh on public menorah lightings in the city, according to a Dec. 1 Times of Israel report. Some local Jewish organizations said that even the big fete at the foot of the Eiffel Tower was scrapped.
"All are cancelled due to security," Alain Granat, the director of the online Jewish cultural news site JewPop, told The Daily Beast in an email.
"I am not certain, but I think they're all cancelled," a secretary at CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, echoed.
However, the Times of Israel report was retracted the following day, and Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic sect that is active throughout the world, released a statement saying that many of the Paris menorahs, including the one beneath the city's iconic tower, would be lit during the holiday.
"Paris police had discouraged local Chabad emissaries from conducting public Chanukah celebrations, and called for major lighting ceremonies to be cancelled," the statement on the group's website read. "Chabad has always taken the position that shutting down its Jewish activities would be a capitulation to terror."
Two young men outside Paris's Grand Synagogue also seemed confident that this year's Hanukkah festivities would go forward. "The lighting ceremonies are definitely happening," one of them told The Daily Beast on a brisk Saturday morning. Inside, worshippers were congregating for weekly Shabbat services, and armed guards patrolled the building's periphery.
In addition to Sunday night's festivities at the Eiffel Tower, 10 other public lighting ceremonies have been given the go-ahead by the Prefecture over the course of the holiday, according to the Chlou'him news site.
Beth Loubavitch, the group that organizes the public menorah lightings, posted a statement on its website highlighting the significance of Hanukkah to a city that is still coming to grips with the worst attack on its soil since the Second World War.
"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."
That sentiment was echoed by Audrey, a 36-year-old Parisian who works in communications. She said that although she usually skips the public lightings in favor of more intimate family gatherings, she was happy that Sunday's festivities at the Eiffel Tower would go on as planned.
"It's a beautiful celebration and symbolically it's important," she told The Daily Beast. "We are living in dark times and light fights the darkness."