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German Jews celebrate beginning of Hanukkah

By Mary Lane

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 1 2010 7:53 a.m. MST

BERLIN — Leaders of Berlin's Jewish community on Wednesday set up a six-meter (20-foot) tall menorah for Hanukkah against the backdrop of one of Germany's most historically important symbols, the Brandenburg Gate.

Eight rabbis huddled against a bitter wind to set up the large, metal menorah holding nine candles — one for each night the festival is celebrated — in the central square, as they have every year since 2003.

"This square represents Germany like the Statue of Liberty represents America," Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal told The Associated Press. "Therefore, it has great meaning to us at this very spot that was once the essence of darkness and evil to set a tone of light."

Hanukkah marks the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C. and the miracle of a smidge of found oil lasting eight days. It begins this year on Wednesday at sundown.

The Brandenburg Gate has been the backdrop for anti-Semitic rallies held by Nazi soldiers and the Berlin Wall that divided the city for decades.

More than 200,000 German Jews, and 6 million across Europe, died during the Holocaust. By the end of World War II in 1945, just 10,000 to 15,000 Jews remained in Germany.

Recent government policies have seen the number of Jews here swell to 200,000 — still a minority in a country of 82 million, but one that has become increasingly vibrant as a younger generation seeks to define itself anew.

The newly elected president of Germany's Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, told the daily Tageszeitung that Germany's aging Jewish community needs to attract younger people and ensure that the Holocaust "should not be the only cement holding Jews together."

The menorah is stationed next to a 17-meter (56-foot) high decorated Christmas tree erected last week. The frigid, 16 F (-9 C) weather discouraged large crowds from gathering at the ceremony, though many tourists — including a group of schoolchildren and a woman dressed as a reindeer — stopped to watch.

But Teichtal isn't worried, reminding visitors there is quite a large crowd they just can't see.

"We feel that there are 6 million Jewish souls looking down on us in heaven and saying 'Way to go. Answer them with light, do good deeds and involve the people.'"

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