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Israeli families mark Hanukkah as they mourn and hope for safe return of hostages

Families in Israel are marking Hanukkah, which started on Thursday, amid nationwide mourning for those killed in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel — and as they hope for the safe return of loved ones held hostage in Gaza.

On the first night of the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights, families of hostages lit a menorah in Tel Aviv with 138 branches representing hostages still in captivity.

For Abbey Onn and her family, the holiday this year is a mix of emotions. As CBS News’ Ramy Inocencio reports, members of her family have been killed and taken hostage by Hamas. While some have been freed, others remain in captivity.

“You feel the pain,” Onn said.

Onn told CBS News in October that Israeli authorities confirmed they found the bodies of her cousin, 80-year-old Carmela Dan, and Dan’s 12-year-old granddaughter, Noya Dan. Onn believed Hamas fighters had taken Carmela and Noya hostage after attacking Nir Oz, a kibbutz in southern Israel where one in every four people was killed or went missing.

“It’s probably everyone’s greatest nightmare,” she said at the time.

In the United States, a spike in antisemitism since the start of the Israel-Hamas war has left many Jewish Americans wondering if they should put a menorah in their windows, or take them down. Menorahs are traditionally placed where they can be seen from the outside, such as a doorway or windowsill, to symbolize the spreading of God’s light to all nations.

“I say to every American: put a menorah in your window,” Onn said. “We stood, Jews stood, with gays, with people of color, with women, for each of their fights. And it’s time to stand with us now.”

During Hanukkah, which is being celebrated this year from Dec. 7-15, Jews gather with family and friends to light a nightly candle in the menorah, a multibranched candelabra. In Hebrew, Hanukkah means “dedication,” and the holiday marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BC, after a small group of Jewish fighters liberated it from occupying foreign forces.

Jews across the religious observance spectrum — from Reform to Conservative to Orthodox — focus on the same theme of bringing light into the darkness and emphasizing that even a small, against-the-odds effort can have a transforming effect.

Speaking at the lighting ceremony of a massive menorah in front of the White House on Thursday to mark the first night of Hanukkah, Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, said American Jews are “feeling alone” and “in pain,” as he denounced rising antisemitism in the U.S. and worldwide.

Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of an American president or vice president, highlighted fear in the Jewish community, and said he’s held conversations with representatives from across the community to see how they’re holding up amid the Israel-Hamas war.

“Even as we face darkness today, I am hopeful,” Emhoff said. “The story of Hanukkah and the story of the Jewish people has always been one of hope and resilience.”

Since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, Israel has responded with a military assault on the densely-populated Gaza Strip that has led to widespread civilian casualties and mass displacements, triggering international alarm. Israel insists it must crush the military capabilities of Hamas, which rules Gaza, and remove it from power.

Israel’s campaign has killed more than 17,100 people in Gaza — 70% of them women and children — and wounded more than 46,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, which says many others are trapped under rubble.

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