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National Menorah Lit in US Capital

  • VOA News

People take pictures in front of a Menorah during the Jewish festival of Hannukah, in Istanbul, Dec, 24, 2016. Hanukkah, known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, is celebrated for eight days.

Hundreds of people gathered to light the National Menorah at a park in Washington, D.C., on Sunday night, the first day of Hanukkah.

The American Friends of Lubavitch hosted the annual menorah lighting. The giant menorah has been erected at the Ellipse, a park located between the White House and the National Mall.

"We are celebrating Hanukkah now, for almost 24 hours. Today is the first day and soon we'll light the second light. That is actually the message of Hanukkah to increase in light with every passing day," Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive vice president of the group, said during the ceremony. "There are many things in the world that are dark and uncertain. And our response to those things needs to be with illumination, clarity and decency."

Adam Szubin, acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury department, also helped light the giant candles. In his speech, he said he hoped Hanukkah's message would be an inspiration.

“My hope is that our lights steadily increase, until the world is illuminated by a continual and unwavering light," Zubin said, according to WTOP news in Washington, D.C.

Hanukkah, known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, is celebrated for eight days. It commemorates a victory by outnumbered Jewish forces over Syrian occupation and the reclaiming of the second Temple of Jerusalem in the second century.

In Rome, hundreds of people also had gathered to see the giant menorah lit in Barberini Square.

Mayor Virginia Raggi told the crowd it's a difficult time in history and "even more necessary to be close to each other."

Her message was delivered hours after Pope Francis' Christmas Day sermon, in which he called for the guns to fall silent in Syria, where he said "far too much blood has been spilled." He also appealed to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to "have the courage and the determination to write a new page of history."

The menorah was first lit in Rome in 1987, as an initiative of the Jewish movement Chabad-Lubavitch. The event has continued to be held in Barberini Square.

Late Saturday in Istanbul, a large crowd attended a Christmas Eve Mass at Istanbul's largest Catholic church, while in another part of the city, members of Istanbul's Jewish community lit a menorah to mark the beginning of the festival of Hanukkah.

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