Politicians from across the political spectrum came together in Parliament to celebrate the festival of Chanukah and to pledge their support for the UK’s Jewish community, at a reception organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews together with the Speaker of the House of Commons.
More than 150 people – including representatives from across Parliament and the Jewish community – gathered in Speaker’s House for the reception. While the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, was regrettably unable to attend due to Covid, Senior Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing MP hosted the gathering.
Those present heard speeches from Dame Eleanor, Minister of State for Security Tom Tugendhat, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper, Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl, Chief Rabbi Sir Ephraim Mirvis and Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely, as well as a prayer for the British Jewish Community from Rabbi Josh Levy and Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Co-leads of Progressive Judaism. The event was compèred by Dame Margaret Hodge MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews, for which the Board of Deputies provides the secretariat.
Introducing the event, Dame Eleanor said: “What happened on the seventh of October was terrorism at its very worst. I know myself from my own Jewish community in my Epping Forest constituency, and from the synagogue which I visit regularly, just how horrifying and upsetting the whole situation is for Jews everywhere.”
Referring to Chanukah and the hostages still held in Gaza, she said that “although celebrations are underway, we all know that there are 138 individuals who will not be celebrating. But given that this is a festival of miracles, what we are praying for above all else is their safe return.”
Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl thanked the many Peers and MPs for attending the celebration, describing how “one beacon of hope for our community has been the wonderful support we have had from both Government and Opposition during these desperately hard months.”
Tom Tugendhat said: “It has been one of those years where we’ve seen the darkness rise and unfold in our hearts, in our families and in our homes. And so this celebration is one of those moments when we remind ourselves that despite what we feel today – despite the pain and the suffering that we can sometimes experience through the trauma that others put us through – the reality is that the light shines within us and conquers the darkness.”
Yvette Cooper said: “At such a difficult time, everybody is still reeling from that barbaric terrorist attack that so many people are still grieving. But we cannot allow events internationally to increase hatred here at home. And that is why antisemitism has no place in our country. The story of Chanukah is one of enduring and lasting of light through the darkness.
She added: “I hope that you are feeling our solidarity from Parliament.”
Before lighting the Chanukah candles and leading guests in the singing of Maoz Tzur, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: “We’re exceptionally proud of the leadership that is being shown on the global stage from here in the Palace of Westminster, from the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and so many others giving their support to Israel support during difficult times right now, who know how to differentiate between light and darkness and between right and wrong. We appreciate this immensely.”
CEO of Liberal Judaism Rabbi Charley Baginsky and CEO of The Movement for Reform Judaism Rabbi Josh Levy recited a prayer for the British Jewish community. They said: “May the light in Jewish homes of this country be a source of comfort, of safety and of reassurance and a sign of God’s presence.”
Israel Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely thanked UK leaders for their support through the conflict. She said: “I’ve never seen this country and the State of Israel more united because it’s so clear. We are fighting against pure evil. And we are carrying the message of peace and hope for a better future for the region when Hamas is defeated. Please make sure that the candles this year symbolise the victory of Israel and the release of innocent hostages.”
As President of the Board, Marie van der Zyl reiterated the vital importance of politicians standing with British Jews and how much it means to receive that solidarity.
She described how “At the vigils and rallies we have organised along with our communal colleagues, politicians from all sides have pledged their support for the Jewish community.
“We are so grateful for this support, both practical and emotional.”
Photo: Stuart Robinson