As part of a programme to improve cultural understanding within professional defence and security education, the Royal College of Defence Studies (RCDS) held its first formal celebration of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah on Monday 29 November.
The event, which took place on the second evening of Hanukkah at Seaford House in London, was attended by a representative of the Israeli Embassy, along with over 100 members of the College’s Global Strategy Programme, including three Jewish members, two of whom are from Israel.
Senior Directing Staff Air Vice Marshal Phil Lester RAF (pictured lighting the second candle), who is the most senior person of Jewish faith in the UK military and former vice president of the armed forces Jewish community, said:
“We felt it important to mark this significant Jewish festival and create an opportunity for all our College members and staff to share in the celebration. During times of darkness, we all seek light to guide and reassure us. Hanukkah – a festival of light at the height of winter – reassures me that the light of spring is nearly upon us. To share this festival with our international colleagues is truly uplifting.”
Following the lighting of candles at sunset the guests joined in Hanukkah songs and prayer, and enjoyed traditional refreshments such as latke and doughnuts, which were funded by the Embassy.
Reflecting on the personal significance of the event held at RCDS, college member Moran Omer of the Israeli Defence Force (Army), said:
“Hanukkah is a tradition that we celebrate with our families every year, for thousands of years. This year, I'm excited and privileged to share my holiday among my colleagues from all over the world.”
Fellow member Sarah Bar-Lev, a UK civil servant, said:
“I love Hanukkah because as a child lighting the candles meant spending time with my grandparents, who weren’t religious but loved the latkes and doughnuts. I lived in Israel for a year with my son and he attended a Hebrew school and the first time I heard him speak Hebrew at the school Hanukkah service was magical and has stayed with me ever since.”
RCDS is the senior college of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom and a world-renowned, multicultural institution that develops strategic thinkers and leaders within the armed forces and Civil Service. RCDS currently has over 70 international members from 47 different countries.
Lieutenant General Sir George Norton, Commandant of the Royal College of Defence Studies, said:
“RCDS is all about creating a learning environment where students with diverse backgrounds and beliefs feel welcomed and at ease. We are honoured to celebrate the festival of Hanukkah with our Israeli members and Embassy representative.
“Throughout history, faith has played a vital role - both on and off the battlefield – in providing moral support to the armed forces across the world. We recognise that a sense of belonging and connection is very important for our international members – including those who do not follow a religious faith - who may be separated from loved ones during their time studying with us. We are proud of the inclusive culture being fostered here at the College."