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Speech: Downing Street Chanukah lighting

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Last night the Chief Rabbi attended a communal Chanukah lighting at the invitation of the Prime Minister. Prior to lighting the candles and leading brachot, Chief Rabbi Mirvis reminded those gathered of the hope that the Chanukah story inspires and its especial pertinence in challenging times. Home Secretary Theresa May appeared in the absence of David Cameron, who was visiting victims of severe flooding, and the Chief Rabbi expressed his profound sympathy with those affected. The content of his speech is below:

“The festival of Chanukah is primarily celebrated in our homes; that’s where we kindle the lights within the family circle. Bearing that in mind, Home Secretary, please convey to the Prime Minister our grateful thanks for his gesture of inviting us into his home this evening for our Chanukah celebration.

We totally understand the Prime Minister’s absence. We identify fully with the challenging plight of those who are suffering from the devastation of the rain and floods, and our thoughts and our prayers are very much with them.

During Chanukah, we recall a time when the Hellenists posed a threat to life and limb. But, the threat was far deeper than that. It was also a threat to our faith, to our culture and to our value system. How did we find the capacity to overcome that threat against the odds? It was a combination of human endeavour together with Divine intervention. It was the war we fought and the miracles that God wrought. Our celebrations this year take place under the clouds of doubt and concern as a result of developments in the Middle East and, also, further to the wave of terror that is sweeping through our Western societies.

‘It was the war we fought and the miracles that God wrought.’

There are a number of similarities, seeing as the threat that Daesh poses is not only a threat to life and limb – it is far deeper than that. It is a threat to other faiths, a threat to our Western culture and our Western civilisation. Bearing this in mind, Home Secretary, please convey to the Prime Minister and our government, our full support for the fight that you are leading to curb all forms of extremism and to prevent the radicalisation of the youth of our country.

In addition, from time immemorial, every Sabbath and festival we have prayed for the Royal Family. This prayer  remained unchanged for a number of decades until a year ago, when we added a new sentence: “May Almighty God bless and protect Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.” That sentiment is ever-relevant, but particularly since Wednesday of last week, when our Parliament voted to send our Air Force on missions in the skies above Syria. As a result, we very much pray that Almighty God, as always, is with Her Majesty’s Armed Forces at this time.

During Chanukah, we recall the time in the days of the Maccabees, when the light of freedom and liberty, of human decency and dignity, overcame the darkness of intolerance and bestiality. And that is our prayer for these challenging times. Bayamim hahem bazman hazeh – What happened then, may it happen now.”