The Hungarian Jewish community is holding outdoor candle-lighting ceremonies across the country this week in celebration of Hanukkah in the backdrop of a record rise in coronavirus cases across Hungary.

The events are organized by the Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities, an affiliate of the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch movement (EMIH).

“Last year was the only time in 24 years that Hungarian Jewry could not celebrate Chanukah as a free and proud community,” said Rabbi Shlomó Köves, chief rabbi of EMIH. “The reason was not due to anti-Semitism or hatred, but because of a pandemic that kept the whole world at bay. Unfortunately, we are still fighting COVID-19, but we will not be deterred and will celebrate—with the utmost caution—together again this year.”

A candle-lighting celebration was held on Sunday, the first night of the eight-day holiday, in Budapest’s Nyugati Square with hundreds of participants. It was lit by Ofir Akunis, a member of Israel’s Knesset, and Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, Av Beit Din (Head of Religious Court) of Budapest’s Orthodox community.

The Jewish community will continue celebrating together with public candle-lighting events held outdoors across Budapest, as well as in Debrecen, Miskolc, Szentendre and Kőszeg. Festivities will include the Sabbathsong Klezmer Band and an event at City Park Ice Rink featuring colorful skating shows, trivia games and traditional holiday foods.

“The light of the flames that proclaim miracles, freedom and eternal values is returning to the public squares in the cities and countryside,” said Köves. “After more than a year of being apart, we understand more than ever how important it is to bring communities together, care for each other and share the values that give the hope of the eternal flame, even when we are very alone.”

COVID cases are on the rise in Hungary; some 27,830 new coronavirus infections were registered in the country in the past 72 hours. The number of active infections has risen to 185,141, while hospitals are treating 7,438 patients, 538 of whom need respiratory assistance.

The government reintroduced compulsory mask-wearing in enclosed spaces on Nov. 20.

The Sabbathsong Klezmer Band performed on the first night of Hanukkah at a candle-lighting ceremony in Hungary, Nov. 28, 2021. Photo by Zsolt Demecs.

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