WARSAW, Poland – Poland's president lit a Hanukkah candle and distributed gifts to Jewish children on Sunday, continuing a tradition started by his predecessor of marking the Jewish holiday.
Bronislaw Komorowski welcomed members of Warsaw's Jewish community to his residence on the fifth day of the 8-day-long festival of lights, saying he believed the president's home should be a meeting place for different traditions.
"I am happy that you wanted come to our home, that you come with what is beautiful in the Jewish tradition — with what brings people together," Komorowski said during the ceremony at Belvedere Palace.
Assisted by Poland's chief rabbi, the president lit the first white candle of a menorah, with Jewish community leaders lighting the remaining five. Children from Warsaw's Jewish school sang Hanukkah songs and then each received a gift of sweets, a book and pen from the president and first lady.
Komorowski's predecessor, Lech Kaczynski, who was killed in a plane crash in April, began a yearly tradition of marking Hanukkah, a gesture valued by Poland's Jews.
Poland's Jewish community was the largest in Europe before the war, but most of its 3.5 million were murdered in ghettoes and death camps at the hands of Nazi Germany.
Those who survived often faced violence or discrimination during communism and many fled to Israel and elsewhere. Since communism's overthrow 20 years ago, this largely Roman Catholic nation has grow increasingly interested in honoring the Jewish life that once flourished here.
Israel's Ambassador Zvi Rav-Ner recalled that before the war millions of candles would burn across Poland during Hanukkah.
"What has been, has been," Rav-Ner said to the president. "There is no going back, but I am happy that here at Belvedere, in your home, we can together renew Jewish traditions and culture in Poland."