Historic Chanukah for York’s Jewish Community

22 December 2022 – 28 Kislev 5783

Clifford’s Tower in York at Chanukah

On the first night of Chanukah, Clifford’s Tower in York opened its doors for its first Jewish ceremony in over 800 years.

The site, where a pogrom in 1190 left over 150 Jews dead, served as the venue for a historic Chanukah celebration, organised by York Liberal Jewish Community (YLJC) in conjunction with North Yorkshire Police.

Despite the freezing December weather, the event was attended by over 70 guests from across the North of England. For many, it was a watershed moment in York’s history and a symbol of the City’s commitment to being a City of Sanctuary and Human Rights. Lilian Coulson, Chair of YLJC, spoke of her hope that the light of the Chanukah candles would “help heal old wounds.”

Lilian said: “This first lighting of a Chanukiah inside Clifford’s Tower, some 832 years after the massacre, is a symbol of unity and healing and a light of peace in our world. We stand here together today, including YJLC members and our proud wider Yorkshire Jews, welcoming those of all faiths and none to this City of Sanctuary.”

Afterwards she added how the poignancy of the moment came alive for her when the sound of Jews singing the Ma’oz Tzur after the lighting of the Chanukah candles echoed around the Tower, the first ever Jewish song within these historic walls.

Liberal Judaism CEO Rabbi Charley Baginsky had planned to attend, but was thwarted by unsafe travel conditions caused by the bad weather. Her words – which were read by YLJC’s Warden, Howard Duckworth – also noted the significance of the event’s location, saying: “I am inspired that we have come together tonight to do this supremely public, diverse and optimistic act together in this historic place, committing ourselves that we can bring light to the world when we are in partnership.”

Some of those taking part in the historic Chanukah ceremony at Clifford’s Tower, York

Some of those taking part in the historic Chanukah ceremony at Clifford’s Tower, York

The City of York Council’s Deputy Lord Mayor Cllr Chris Cullwick, The Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell and English Heritage Host Andrea Selley, Territory Director – North,  all spoke movingly at the event.  The Archbishop and English Heritage’s Andrea Selley then lit the Chanukiah candles, whilst YLJC’s Vice Chair Shaan Bloch recited the blessings. Others in attendance included Simon Bean, Head of English Heritage properties for Yorkshire and North Midlands.

The community were also delighted to welcome fellow Jews from across the region to this unique celebration, including Sara Radivin from the Board of Deputies and Susie Gordon of Leeds Jewish Representative Council.

And to commemorate this historic day in what has been a momentous year, Lilian asked everyone to turn to each other to say ‘Chag urim sameach’ (‘Happy Festival of Lights’) and ‘Shalom aleichem’ (‘peace be upon you’), which circa 70 people did simultaneously – the first ever spoken Hebrew / Jewish words of light and peace for us all within these stone walls and our wish for now and the future.

Pictures by Guzelian Photography.

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