OPINION: Light up London and celebrate a wonderful place to be Jewish
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OPINION: Light up London and celebrate a wonderful place to be Jewish

Last year Chanukah in the Square saw over 7,500 people come out to celebrate!
Last year Chanukah in the Square saw over 7,500 people come out to celebrate!
Last year Chanukah in the Square saw over 7,500 people come out to celebrate!
Last year Chanukah in the Square saw over 7,500 people come out to celebrate!

by Simon Johnson, Chief Executive, Jewish Leadership Council 

Simon Johnson
Simon Johnson

The story of Chanukah is one of defiance in the face of a strong opposition and victory against all the odds. Today our Chanukah lights are a visible symbol of continuity for our community. For me, Chanukah in the Square is a vibrant celebration of our vitality.

Each year, as the Jewish Leadership Council prepares to organise Chanukah in the Square, we anticipate that this year will be particularly poignant.

Last year, following the sickening attacks and massacre of six Jews at prayer in Har Nof in Israel, we thought it important that the community should come together.

This year is no different.  The so-called knife intifada, which has afflicted Israel over the past few months has left us concerned for the welfare of our many family members and friends. Closer to home, the horrendous incidents in Paris have seen fears intensified.

But it is all too easy for us to dwell on the negatives; to live in fear or try to offer our own message of defiance. That is the wrong approach. When we come together for Chanukah in the Square, we should be celebrating our communities’ vibrancy.

In the past couple of months, we and our members have been part of ground breaking events that have seen participation in Jewish life flourish. Seeing thousands of us embrace Shabbat UK or don green T-shirts for Mitzvah Day is inspiring and our community has never been in such a strong position.

I am proud to be actively promoting our community – be it fighting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) on campus with UJS or looking at the future through work such as the Synagogue Vitality Project. The community can look forward to how it can continue to flourish.

That is not to say that we should take for granted the work done by the Community Security Trust together with the police to ensure that events such as Chanukah in the Square can go ahead in as safe an environment as possible.

This year, as we always do, we are working in partnership with the CST, the police and the Greater London Authority to ensure that there is appropriate security for this important event. We and our partners are treating this event with the full seriousness that it deserves. At the JLC, we remain incredibly grateful and appreciative of the work the CST and police do for us, day in, day out.

As ever, we are delighted that Chanukah in the Square will be celebrated with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. The mayor’s recent visit to Israel showed that he is a true friend of the country and the Jewish community.

I cannot help but feel that, despite their public comments to the contrary, a few days of Boris in Israel does severe damage to the BDS campaign. He has a track record for engaging the British public as a whole and the fact that he does not shy away from being vocal in his support of us is a huge positive for Israel and our community.

We are privileged to live in a country where our capital city opens one of its most famous landmarks to us every year. It is a great credit to modern Britain that we are free to celebrate our culture and heritage together with Londoners and the many individuals who visit our capital. It is also a complement to our community to have people from across the religious spectrum come together for a true celebration of British Jewry.

Too many of us are walking around with our heads down or glancing over our shoulders. Those who oppose us are being countered effectively, but we must also realise they are a small, vocal but marginal group within our society. We cannot let them dictate our feeling of pride in our community and in Israel. Britain is a great place in which to be Jewish.

There are many great events throughout the year. But Chanukah in the Square is something special – a joyful, lively, musical, energetic celebration. An event when thousands of us can look up above Trafalgar Square at the lights of the Menorah and be proud that we live in a country which allows us to celebrate our heritage. If you are in London next Thursday, please join us.

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