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

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op donderdag 2 december 2021.

Thank you very much, dear Nehama,

Rabbi Tawil, Rabbi Margolin,

Cher bourgmestre,

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,

It is such an honour for me to light a candle on this Channukia, which will cast its light on the European quarter tonight. It is wonderful, this idea. So I am very happy to be here, thank you very much for having invited me. It is wonderful to be present here at an ancient Jewish tradition, celebrating a miracle from over two thousand years ago. But I believe all of us - modern-day Europeans - have something to learn from this Jewish festivity. Chanukkah is a story of resilience and perseverance. It is the story of how the Jewish people rekindled the light inside the Temple, against all odds and in circumstances that seemed desperate. Chanukkah bears a message of hope for all of us in these times of pandemic and recovery.

And therefore, Jewish culture has so much to teach us, including to those - like me - who do not share your faith but who really, really love to learn about it. In fact, our European culture would not be as rich as it is without Jewish culture, Jewish values, Jewish art and Jewish cuisine. European Jews have contributed immensely to the making of modern Europe, and to the shaping of our European identity. You have been ‘a light unto the nations', just like the candles that we are about to light.

And yet the history of the Jewish people is also one of persecution. From the times of the first Chanukkah to the tragedy of the Shoah. After the Holocaust, Europe promised to put an end to intolerance and anti-Semitism. The European Union has been built on these promises. And yet we see that anti-Semitism has resurfaced across Europe. Too many Jewish schools and synagogues, today, have to be protected by armed guards. A stunning 70% of European Jews do not feel safe when wearing a kippah, or a Star of David. And throughout the pandemic, Jews have been the target of all sorts of conspiracy theories and hate speech. Let me tell you that attacks against European Jews are attacks against our fundamental European values. And they are attacks against Europe itself. We will never tolerate that. Because rest assured that Jewish life has always been and will always be an integral part of our European life.

This is why I asked my team to work on the first-ever European Strategy on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life. The Strategy proposes practical measures, from fighting anti-Semitic propaganda online and offline to protecting Jewish communities around Europe. But it is also - and this is very important for me - crucially a Strategy on fostering Jewish life in our continent. Seven in ten Europeans say that they know nothing about Jewish life and Judaism. And this means ignoring an essential part of our European culture. So the Strategy puts a premium on teaching Jewish history to our children, and on promoting Jewish heritage in our cities. Because Jewish history is our history, Jewish life is our life, Jewish is Europe. So let us foster that and let us celebrate that.

We are lucky enough to live in a city, dear bourgmestre that cherishes its diversity. Thank you very much for that, too. I know that Brussels has a famous lively synagogue life and Jewish cultural centres, Jewish museums and memorials, and even, I heard, a Jewish radio with good music and plenty of news about Jewish life. At this time of the year, we can see a few Channukias in windows across the city. This should be normal, and no Jewish family should be afraid to show its identity. Do it, we are proud of it, we want to see it! I want a Union that cherishes its diversity, where the lights of Chanukkah illuminate our cities and our hearts.

So on this Festival of light, my wish is that we can all find the strength and the perseverance to build a Union of unity and diversity, where Jewish life can truly prosper.

Chag Chanukkah Sameach.

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