New York, December 18th, 2020 – As the working year is drawing to a close at the UN Headquarters in New York, over one hundred UN diplomats took part in a unique Hanukkah lighting ceremony on Thursday night, when former enemies now stood side by side to light the eighth and final candle of the Hanukkah menorah – the special candle stand for Hanukkah.
“This has been a year both of breakdowns and breakthroughs”, said Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, referring to the difficult year of the corona pandemic, but also to a year of unprecedented diplomatic breakthroughs for the Jewish state when the Abraham Accords were signed between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, and diplomatic relations were established for the first time also with other nations, among them Morocco. Standing side by side with the Moroccan Ambassador to the UN, Omar Hilale, on Thursday night, and joined online by over one hundred UN diplomats, among them ambassadors from Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Bhutan, Gilad Erdan called the evening “a true Hanukkah miracle”.
”This form of cultural diplomacy, when diplomats sit down together, leave their differences behind and, circumstances permitting, break bread together, is the way forward to greater understanding in the world today”, noted Gregory Lafitte, Co-Founder of the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy who also spoke at the event. Over the last seven years the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy has co-hosted many similar events but this event was truly unique.
Moroccan Ambassador Omar Hilale insisted that it should not come as a surprise to anyone that he, as a Moroccan, is lighting the Hanukkah candle. “The Jewish people have always been part of Morocco”, he said. “When European governments sent their Jews to concentration camps, our king protected them. When the Nazis asked for our Moroccan Jews to be handed over, our king replied that they have no Jews, only Moroccans”.
”Hanukkah is existing together. Hanukkah is loving each other. Hanukkah is rejecting violence. Hanukkah is building bridges between people and civilizations. This is the understanding we have in our hearts”, Hilale said.
Apart from the Israeli and Moroccan Ambassadors who were physically present at the Edmond J. Safra synagogue in New York, other Hanukkah menorahs were lit during pre-recorded messages by the UN Ambassadors of the USA, Albania, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, India, Guatemala, Italy, Australia and Rwanda. All the continents of the world were thus represented in celebrating the message on Hanukkah.
The event was co-hosted by the Israeli Permanent Representation to the UN and the Forum for Cultural Diplomacy which was founded in 2014 as an UN-initiative of the European Coalition for Israel. The Forum aims at raising awareness of the essential role of culture in our civilisations, by providing a platform for exploring and building upon the dialogue between the Jewish culture and other cultures.