An American journalist who was recently freed after spending nearly six months in jail in military-ruled Myanmar helped light one of eight Hanukkah candles during a holiday celebration in downtown Detroit
Fenster, who is from the Detroit suburb of Huntington Woods, was handed over Nov. 15 by Myanmar to former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, who helped negotiate his release. He returned to the U.S. the following day.
Fenster, the managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, is one of more than 100 journalists, media officials and publishers who have been detained in the Southeast Asian country since its military ousted the elected government in February.
He was arrested on May 24 at Yangon International Airport and convicted of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison with hard labor.
“It wasn’t a theme I thought about before the timing of my release and the timing of this event, but I think there’s that obvious connection with bringing light to darkness in journalism,” Fenster, who is Jewish, told the Detroit Free Press. “The things that I was arrested for, being part of the news organization that’s trying to shed light on a very dark regime, seems obviously resonant to me.”
“I can’t imagine a better community to come home to,” Fenster said during a reception prior to Sunday’s menorah lighting. “And it’s just made an already great, joyful situation even more joyful. Just had a lot of love and appreciation back home here in Detroit and metro Detroit, in the Jewish community and the wider community. It’s just been incredible.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan attended the ceremony saying none of the previous events have been as special as this year with the safe return of Fenster.
“This truly is a Happy Hanukkah in Detroit. God bless you,” Duggan said before the lighting.