Hanukkah Candle Lighting: Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein Tells How He Lit Hanukkah Candles in Soviet Prison

Yididya Meir, a religious Israeli radio personality was in the LeTzion BeRina School in Betar Illith and retold the story Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told the students.    

Yuli Edelstein was put on trial on December 19th , 1984. The charges were possession of drugs. Of course that was a fabrication (unless you go by Karl Marx’s broad definition, Religion is the opium of the masses). He actually organized Zionistic activities and gave Hebrew lessons and that is what bothered the Soviets. The punishment would be 3 years of hard labor in Southern Siberia.
“I was in a detention cell for 3 months. I was called in to the court to hear the verdict. The whole room was full of police and security staff. In normal court proceedings the family can sit close to the defendant. But here they filled the room and purposely made sure there was a great distance between me and my family who came to get a glimpse of me.”

“After the sentencing, no less than 26 guards surrounded me and were whisking me back to my cell. Somehow I was able to poke my head out of the security ring and shout to my wife: “Tanya, what candle is it today?”

Yedidya adds; “this in itself was astounding. He may not see his wife for three years and this is what he asks.”

“The police around me and initially my wife also thought I was losing my sanity because I was on my way to Siberia. She didn’t know what I wanted. So I shouted again, “what candle is it today?” She only understood me after I shouted it a third time and she shouted back; “tonight we light the second candle!” This was the morning of the first day of Chanukah 5744 and that night would be the second night. I didn’t have a calendar in detention but I calculated the Chanukah was coming out about then.”

That night, in a regular cell instead of a detention cell, I somehow got hold of two matches. Since it was the first time I was lighting having missed the first night I made the three blessings. “He who commanded us to light the Chanukah candles” “He who made miracles for us then and now” and “He who gave us life for this day”. I lit the matches and stood by the window until the matches started to burn my fingers. It was my shortest candle lighting ever. I’m not sure I even fulfilled my requirement but that light pushed away a lot of darkness.” Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein concludes his story told over to the students.

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