Turkey's Jewish community marked the end of Hanukkah, also known as the festival of lights, on Sunday night. In synagogues across Turkey and in parks in Istanbul's Nişantaşı neighborhood, community members lit menorahs to observe the festival which started one week ago. Hanukkah's last night was celebrated with Ladino songs.
The Jewish community in Turkey is mostly descendants of Sephardic Jews that took shelter in the Ottoman Empire after fleeing Spain centuries ago. Their numbers, mainly concentrated in Istanbul nowadays, dwindled with a pogrom decades ago and after migration to Israel.
In Şişli, the Istanbul district that has been historically home to the Jewish community, the faithful joined locals to mark the day in Nişantaşı Sanat Park. Addressing the crowd there, Chief Rabbi İsak Haleva said the festival hosted "a magnificent view [of unity]."
"I hope this sets an example for unity and togetherness," Haleva said.
Speaking to Demirören News Agency, Yusuf Kuruner, one of Turkish Jews who attended the celebration in Nişantaşı, said they were happy to celebrate the festival in public. The community, whose synagogues were subject to terrorist attacks in the past, shied away from marking the day in public for years. The first public celebration was at Beşiktaş's Bosporus shore three years ago.
Hanukkah is celebrated by Jews worldwide for eight days and nights and falls on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November to late December on the secular calendar. In Hebrew, Hanukkah means "dedication," as the holiday celebrates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jewish victory against the Seleucid monarchy in 165 B.C. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional food, games and gifts.
Starting from the first day, Jews light candles arranged in a candelabrum known as "Hanukiah." The candelabrum holds nine candles, one for each night, plus a Shamash (servant) at a different height to light the other candles. Each night, another candle is added from right to left.
Turkey has around 18,000 Jews according to the Turkish Jewish community.