On Sunday I was invited to address the annual Menorah Lighting and Chanukah celebration at the Town Hall. The text of my remarks is below. Thank you to Rabbi Shmuli Pink for inviting me to address this important event. Best wishes to everyone celebrating Chanukah.
Remarks at Leicester Communal Chanukah Lighting, Town Hall, Sunday 21 December 2014
This is always a wonderful event to be at. It is absolutely appropriate and fitting that Chanukah is celebrated here in the City’s Council Chamber.
I think it is fitting for two reasons.
Firstly, it gives us an important opportunity to recognise and immense and important contribution that the Jewish community has made, and does make, to Leicester.
Going back to the Nineteenth Century and spanning business and industry; academia and education; science, the arts and culture; and of course politics and civic life. It’s a contribution that continues to this day and that important history should be rightly recognised – and is – when we tell the story of Leicester.
The second reason I think it is appropriate and fitting that we celebrate Chanukah here in the Council Chamber is because it provides a timely reminder that we are a proud city of many faiths.
We often reflect on our diversity as a city.
We are proud to be a city where different communities celebrate together, as we do this evening.
A city where communities work together to make a positive impact.
A city where in times of grief, we mourn together; as we did this week following the horrific events in Pakistan.
We know our diversity as a city is a great strength.
At times some seek to paint a picture of Leicester that does not reflect what we know of our city.
Often from the outside and from distance, some will manufacture a picture of Leicester that is contorted and which misunderstands – often deliberately – what our city is about.
We know that from our history and from our life today as a vibrant, multicultural city we draw strength and resilience.
And we also know that at times when we see differences of opinion – and it would ne naïve to suggest there are not occasions when there are differences of opinion – that never, ever compromises this city’s commitment to tolerance and respect and our steadfast rejection of prejudice and discrimination.
Today in Leicester, as in other towns and cities, we see a paradox.
On the one hand we see challenges that should not exist; rising levels of food poverty; families struggling to get by, worrying whether they can buy Christmas presents for their kids.
But on the other hand, in response to those challenges we see the best qualities of our city.
I think about the volunteers I met recently at the St Martins House foodbank; working hard to make sure those in need of help, got help. And making sure the foodbank shelves were stocked for the Christmas period.
Or the fantastic team behind the annual Toys on the Table appeal, making sure kids get a Christmas present when otherwise they might not.
Or the many workplaces, including the City Council, that support the Leicestershire Cares Winter Coat Drive; making sure those in need get a warm coat for the harsh, winter weather.
Or the volunteers I met this week in my own ward, Eyres Monsell; organising the lunch club and putting on a brilliant Christmas dinner for elderly residents.
Those are just some of many examples where people of all faiths and none step forward to help; to make their contribution to make our communities and city what it is today.
A city that typifies the very best qualities of modern Britain.
Chanukah teaches us the power of dedication, of resolve and of resilience.
These are qualities we see enacted each and every day in our city.
Qualities that bind our communities together, that give us cause to reflect and cause to be both proud and grateful for what Leicester is as a city today.
Rabbi Pink, I want to thank you for your strength of leadership and everyone involved in again organising this wonderful Chanukah celebration.
It’s an event which we look forward to and which is firmly and rightly established in the city’s calendar.
This event gives us opportunity to reflect on the great strengths of our city and it’s communities.
I want to acknowledge this evening the many people, the hundreds of volunteers who make a difference, who step forward to do their bit every day in our city. Thousands of small actions that collectively make a big difference to our city, an immensely valuable and positive difference.
This reminds me of one particular Chanukah message: a little light expels a lot of darkness.
In that spirit, I wish you all and everyone celebrating, a very happy and peaceful Chanukah.