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Spreading light in menorah lighting on Boston Common

Jed Weiss (left) and Ilana Braun lit the rightmost candle of a large menorah on Boston Common to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah as Rabbi Yosef Zaklos, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, and Governor Charlie Baker watched.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

High in the air, as sunset ushered in the first night of Hanukkah Sunday, Ilana Braun and Jed Weiss stood on a lift and lit the rightmost candle of the 22-foot-tall menorah on Boston Common.

They’ll celebrate the seven remaining nights of the holiday in their Chinatown apartment with their three children, each child lighting a much smaller menorah and eating latkes — no blow torch in sight.

But for the first night of Hanukkah, after last year’s much more muted celebrations, it was a welcome experience.

“It’s really lovely to be part of the Boston community and the Jewish community coming out all together, especially during the pandemic, when it’s so hard to convene a group and celebrate,” Braun said.

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Last Hanukkah, the number of confirmed COVID cases in Massachusetts was surging: 5,369 new cases on the first night. The 2020 Boston Common menorah-lighting ceremony still took place, albeit with a smaller crowd and a livestream for people watching at home.

This year was more celebratory. A few dozen people gathered at the Brewer Fountain, from dignitaries and families who came to watch to passersby unfamiliar with the holiday, casually stopping to ask what the gathering was for. Members of the Jewish bluegrass band Kol Kahol, Hebrew for Blue Voice, played Hanukkah songs for the crowd.

“Millions of Jews right now, tonight, around the world, are lighting the same candles in the same structure in their homes and in their communities,” said Rabbi Marc Baker, president and chief executive of Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

Rabbi Yosef Zaklos of Chabad of Downtown Boston spoke about spreading light and joy from one candle to the next.

“There’s a vibe,” Zaklos said. “People are happy to be able to be outdoors without a mask, in a safe space. There is certainly uncertainty. We all understand that. But I think when we’re anchored in goodness and positivity, it allows us to ride that uncertainty in a much more calm and collected way.”

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Though public celebrations of Hanukkah date back a few thousand years, Jewish people typically celebrate at home. Families hold small celebrations over eight nights with candle-lightings, prayers, songs, and fried food ― potato latkes and jelly-filled sufganiyot.

Members of Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic, have been organizing large-scale menorah lightings since the 1970s as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the holiday and bring a bit of happiness and hope to public spaces.

“Judaism teaches us that the best way to celebrate Hanukkah is infectious,” Zaklos said. “You light one candle first, you add in light, and you can’t hold back from adding another candle the next night. In addition, you light the world around you. It’s contagious because when you are bright, then those around you also assume positivity.”

Zaklos greeted newly elected Boston Mayor Michelle Wu with “a big mazal tov, as we say,” to congratulate her. She did the shamash honors with Governor Charlie Baker as her three elected predecessors had, holding a blowtorch on the lift next to Zaklos, Braun, and Weiss.

“Despite the many forces keeping us apart, despite how much we are trying to stay isolated, we need each other,” Wu told the crowd. “And we are showing in this city, and in every action that we take, that we can follow these same lessons of this holiday season: Of courage and perseverance triumph, and making sure that light will spread.”

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Baker acknowledged that these times are still difficult for many people but welcomed the light of such ceremonies.

“In some respects, especially in times like these, I think it’s important for us to all remember that every day ― somewhere, someplace ― there are little miracles happening,” Baker said. “They involve acts of grace and kindness and generosity. And they are, in fact, the light that pushes out the darkness, which is what this menorah these eight days of light stand for.”





Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.