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Paris pushes aside shroud of fear to let in Hanukkah light

Despite early security warnings and recent attacks on Jews in France, Parisians turned out by the thousands to kindle the Eiffel Tower menorah.

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Rabbi Levi Shemtov (from l.) White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, and Rabbi Abraham Shemtov participate in the annual National Menorah Lighting in celebration of Hanukkah, on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, Sunday.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

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Paris is the City of Lights, after all. Despite the fear and grief that continues to shroud the French city following the November attacks, the annual Hanukkah lighting services proceeded as usual Sunday night. 

Facing doubts and lingering paranoia, Jewish communities were officially discouraged from any public activity in Paris. Jewish people are an exceptional target for extremists, experts say. But that didn't stop the annual Menorah lighting underneath the Eiffel Tower by Chabad-Lubavitch, a Jewish sect sect located throughout the world.

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Sunday night, an estimated 6,000 people gathered at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, where a 30-foot tall Menorah was lit, candle by candle.

“For more than 2,200 years, the Jewish people have kindled the lights with hope in mankind and an affirmation of their belief in God,” said Chief Rabbi of France Haim Korsia. “You see beyond the Chanukah lights, the first light that ushers in the possible. Earlier, my friend reminded me that I am the spiritual adviser for a ground army, whose motto is: ‘Anything beyond the possible.’ ”

Under the clear dark sky and moderate 50-degree weather, attendees were none the happier to be together in the wake of terrorist activities. Only a week after the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130, a Jewish teacher in Marseille was stabbed Nov. 18. And earlier this year, a kosher grocery store was the sole target of an attack.

Even as recent as a week ago, the Jewish community was almost sure that these public demonstrations would be canceled.

"All are cancelled due to security," Alain Granat, the director of the online Jewish cultural news site JewPop, told The Daily Beast in an e-mail.

"I am not certain, but I think they're all cancelled," a secretary at CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said the same.

But the Festival of Lights prevailed. Out of 30 public lightings, 11 were approved.

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“I’m not afraid, this is proof that the Jewish people are alive,” Paris resident Kathy Coen told the Times of Israel. 

“This year Hanukkah is more significant, we have to give more light.”