Speech by President von der Leyen at the lighting of the Euro-Chanukah

Thank you very much, dear Nehama, for your warm words,

Rabbi Tawil,

Rabbi Margolin,

Cher Bourgmestre,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

And I want to give a very special welcome to the students of the Ben-Gurion University.

There is a beautiful saying, and many of you know it: ‘The darkness of the whole world cannot swallow the glowing of a candle.'

Thank you so much for inviting me again, indeed, to this celebration. Chanukah is of course an ancient Jewish tradition. But I believe it speaks to all human beings. This Festival of Lights tells us to keep hoping even in the darkest of times; to keep working for a better future, even when the circumstances seem desperate. It tells us that a small action can make a big difference.

It is a powerful and empowering message. And for me, personally, the lighting of these candles has become a moment of reflection. A moment to take a deep breath and to look for glimmers of hope in the night. This is a gift that you have made me.

I have always believed that this Jewish festival should be celebrated in public – and that the streets of Europe should be lit up by the little flames of Chanukiot. But this year, it is even more important to renew this tradition. Because the night around us is especially dark. An old evil is resurfacing in Europe. Swastikas have been painted on the homes of Jews. Synagogues have been vandalised. Jewish children have been locked in their schools because the streets are not safe for them.

This is horrific, and it is painful. No parent should be afraid to send their children to school. There should be no place for this hatred – especially here in Europe. And there is no justification to the rise in anti-Semitism. No war, no political argument can excuse it.  Freedom of speech and opinion, freedom of worship, and freedom from fear – that must be a reality at all times, in all circumstances, and for all human beings.

Chanukah is also the story of the Jewish people regaining their freedom of worship after times of persecution. This moment of celebration must also be one to say that never again will we tolerate hate against the Jewish people. Plus jamais cela, c'est maintenant.

One of the teachings of Chanukah is that you can either curse the dark or light a candle. We are going for the latter. Earlier this week, we presented a new plan against all forms of hatred. And the fight against anti-Semitism has a central place in it. We want to protect places of worship – starting with synagogues. Because no one should be afraid to profess their own faith. We will fight hate speech online. Because it is never okay to use faith as a slur, neither in the streets nor on the internet.

Europe stands for ‘united in diversity'. For centuries, European Jews have shaped our common heritage. Think of Marc Chagall and Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Rahel Hirsch and Hannah Arendt. And you still do shape our common heritage. This is why we will create a new award to celebrate Jewish cultural heritage. Because Jewish culture is a blessing to Europe, and we should all know more about it.

My dear friends,

We must bring new energy to our age-old value of unity in diversity. This is also the spirit of Chanukah. It is not only a celebration of the past but a time to renew our hopes for the future with the confidence that ‘weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning'.

Thank you so much again and ‘Chag Chanukah Sameach'.