German Chancellor Olaf Scholz helped light Berlin’s public Chanukah menorah at the Brandenburg Gate on Thursday evening. This marked the first time in history that a German chancellor attended a public-menorah lighting ceremony.
By Noa Amouyal/Chabad.org
Wearing a black kippah, and speaking about antisemitism past and present, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz helped light Berlin’s public Chanukah menorah at the Brandenburg Gate on the first night of Chanukah, marking the first time in history that a German head of state attended a public menorah-lighting ceremony.
At a time when the Jewish people are facing rising antisemitism across Europe and grappling with the horrors of the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel that left 1,200 Israelis murdered and 240 kidnapped by Hamas, the chancellor sent a powerful message of solidarity with Germany’s Jewish community, as well as Jews around the world.
Families of Israeli hostages being held captive in Gaza attended the ceremony as well as guests of Berlin’s Jewish community. The ceremony was broadcast live on Thursday, Dec. 7, at 9 a.m. (EST) and is available for later viewing on Chabad.org.
Other notable figures in attendance included the president of the German parliament, Bärbel Bas, and ambassadors from 12 countries, including Israel’s Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutman.
Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, the rabbi of the Jewish Community of Berlin, opened the event, welcoming the guests. Teichtal established Chabad-Lubavitch in Germany’s capital in 1996 and has been erecting the public menorah at the iconic Brandenburg Gate—it is Europe’s largest menorah—since 2003, this year marking two decades since it first went up.
Scholz’s presence will also mark the first time a head of state has participated in a public menorah lighting ceremony since U.S. President Jimmy Carter lit the shamash candle of the first National Menorah in 1979, noted Teichtal’s son, Rabbi Dovid Teichtal of the Rohr Chabad-Lubavitch Center in Berlin, told Chabad.org.
‘A Powerful Message of Solidarity’
Standing at 10 meters (33 feet) high, Chabad’s menorah at Brandenburg Gate is one of the 50 menorahs Chabad has erected across the city.
“We have these public menorahs in popular places around the cities, including the entrances to every ministry. You will be able to experience Chanukah throughout Berlin,” the younger Teichtal said.
While some expressed concern over having such prominent displays of Jewish pride and Judaism across the city and worried it may raise security concerns, Teichtal was adamant that now more than ever, Jews need to step out of the shadows and embrace their faith.
“Some suggested we reduce the number of menorahs, but we said no,” he said emphatically. “There’s always a risk that something will happen, but we can’t capitulate to this fear because then we let evil win. We are a nation of light and unity, and we’re proud of who we are.
It’s fitting, then, that this grand display of Jewish pride and optimism took place at the Brandenburg Gate, the very same spot that infamously hosted Nazi propaganda events during the Holocaust“After Oct. 7, people are more fearful, yes,” Teichtal acknowledged, but “so many people are coming forward and proud to be Jewish. We’re constantly seeing new people come to Chabad who we’ve never seen before. People are understanding that this is the time to come together.”
Since the menorah was first put up in 2003, the ceremony has been frequented by both Jews and non-Jews, dignitaries and residents coming to hear uplifting Chanukah melodies, enjoy traditional jelly doughnuts and dancing, and revel in the still-awesome scene of a public display of Jewish pride in the heart of Germany.
‘Berlin Transformed When It Comes to Jewish Life’
The elder Teichtal, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., arrived in Berlin in 1996, inspired by the vision of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, to help ignite a resurgence of Jewish life in the country.
The Teichtal family has a close personal history with Germany’s dark past, as their patriarch perished following the Holocaust. According to Dovid, his great-grandfather—a noted Talmudist—was put on a train to leave Auschwitz at the end of the war. On the train filled with other Holocaust survivors were antisemitic Ukrainian prisoners, who beat him to death for his slice of bread.
The Teichtals, then, felt a strong pull to Germany and wanted to help revive the Jewish community that Hitler worked so hard to destroy.
Aside from Chabad of Berlin, which is home to 12 Chabad emissaries and six Chabad centers, there are Chabad centers in 20 cities around Germany.
The growth in the number of Chabad emissaries in Germany coincided with the influx of Jews emigrating to the country. After World War II, a mere 7,000 Jews resided in Germany. In the years following German reunification, many Jews from the former Soviet Union settled throughout the country. A large number of expat Israelis have also made Germany their home, bringing the Jewish population to some 100,000 strong.
“In the past 20 years, Berlin has completely transformed when it comes to Jewish life. Jews are constantly moving here, and now we’ve even welcomed Jewish Ukrainian refugees,” Teichtal marveled. “This spike in the Jewish population has led to new synagogues, schools and community centers where we host activities for Russian, Hebrew and German speakers.”
Felix Klein, Germany’s antisemitism commissioner, said that some 3,000 Ukraine Jews came to Germany since Russia’s invasion into their country last year.
Chabad of Germany has been a backbone of support for this war-torn community, helping them acclimate to their new life. Teichtal explained that in the beginning of the war in Ukraine Chabad of Berlin established a refugee compound to house the Jewish Ukrainians arriving in the capital. Today some 400 Jewish Ukrainian refugees live there, and Chabad provides them with all their basic needs.
The event included speeches and entertainment.
Largest Jewish Structure Since the Holocaust
Last year Chabad of Berlin opened the Pears Jewish Campus, a $44 million, 90,000-square-foot Jewish educational, recreational and religious center. Chabad’s new home is the largest Jewish structure built in Germany since World War II and one of the largest Jewish centers in the world.
This year, exactly 85 years after Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) the menorah lighting at Brandenburg Gate is an opportunity for Jewish people to spread light when they’ve been engulfed in darkness.
“This is the biggest answer to opposing the type of ideology Hitler wanted to spread,” said Teichtal. “Establishing a place where Jews are thriving and being successful proves that Hitler did not succeed in his mission.”
“It also tells the Jewish people that even when we’re in the midst of conflict, peace is possible. Faith in the Moshiach is the solution. Eighty-five years ago, Jews never would have thought we’d be standing in the center of Berlin proudly celebrating a holiday of Jewish victory,” said Teichtal. “We can be at our lowest and think that it can’t get worse, but we’re really only a step away from redemption.”
Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org.