British Jews have celebrated Hanukkah with a menorah lighting ceremony at Clifford’s Tower in York, the site of one of the worst anti-Semitic massacres to take place on British soil.
According to English Heritage, a massacre of Jews took place at the tower in 1190.
The Jews were forced to seek refuge in the tower by an angry mob who were blaming Jews for their debts and stirred up by rumours and anti-Semitic conspiracies. Many Jews inside chose to commit suicide rather than facing the angry mob outside. Just before their deaths, they also set fire to the possessions they had brought with them; this fire consumed the timber tower. It is not clear how many Jews were present – estimates range from 20 to 40 families, and a later account in Hebrew suggests about 150 people.
The mob had offered safe passage to Jews who agreed to convert to Christianity and leave the tower. A few took this option, only to be murdered as soon as they came out from the burning building. Afterwards, the rioters destroyed the records of their debts to the Jews.
The present stone tower was built 60 years after the massacre, and it was in the shadow of the tower that this weeks menorah lighting took place.
The special ceremony was attended by Yorkshire police officers who helped organise the event as well as members from various Jewish communities in the north of England, including Harrogate, Leeds, York and Manchester.
Superintendent Mark Khan, York Commander, said: “This celebration was the first of its kind for us in North Yorkshire Police, and we look forward to making it an annual event.
“We wanted to mark Chanukah as part of our commitment to being a more inclusive organisation and having a deeper understanding of all the communities we serve. We were delighted to stand together in solidarity with the local Jewish Communities.
“The location was very poignant, because although it’s easy to say the atrocities that happened there are in the past, we know that Hate Crime is very real in today’s society, and people are still being targeted for their race, religion or beliefs.
“This will not be tolerated, and I want to send a clear message that we are here for everyone and no matter who you are or what your belief is, we will work hard to make sure you are safe in the city”.
Special Inspector Moshe Rothstein from Greater Manchester Police, who was key in organising the event, said: “This has been an absolute honour and privilege working together with North Yorkshire Police in getting this significant Chanukah event off the ground, especially at such a historical location in British Jewry.
— S/Insp M Rothstein (@TruckerMozzi) November 29, 2021
“I’m in no doubt, Jewish communities nationally will have felt true commitment and support from NYP in marking such a historical event.
“When the candles were kindled, I couldn’t help but think deeply of all those Jewish victims who seemed to have lost hope and now, all those years later we have lit up the city of York with these beautiful Chanukah kindled, spreading goodness & kindness for a brighter tomorrow.”