Metro

A somber beginning to Hanukkah in Boston

Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Rabbi Rachmeil Liberman of Congregation Lubavitch Synagogue lit the menorah in Downtown Crossing on Sunday.
Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe
Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Rabbi Rachmeil Liberman of Congregation Lubavitch Synagogue lit the menorah in Downtown Crossing on Sunday.

The first night of Hanukkah was cloudy, but the rain held off Sunday long enough to allow for the lighting of the menorahs at both Downtown Crossing and the Boston Common.

“It’s the perfect metaphor, really,” said Rabbi Marc Baker, the resident and CEO of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. ”Lighting a candle in the rain . . . spreading light in these dark times.”

Hanukkah, which began Sunday night, is an eight-day festival celebrated by Jews around the world to recognize the ancient miracle when one day’s worth of oil burned for eight nights in a sacred temple in Jerusalem

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“The miracle of the first night was to light it in a rainy, dark world even though we don’t know how long it will last,” Baker said before lighting the menorah on the Boston Common.

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Coming less than two months after a mass shooting at a temple in Pittsburgh left 11 dead, many in attenance Sunday said that the tragedy weighed on their minds.

Despite the sadness and the dreary weather, more than 200 people attended the menorah lightings downtown.

At Downtown Crossing, shoppers stopped on their way out of Macy’s or on their way to the subway to listen to a choir sing Hanukkah songs Sunday afternoon.

“Candles burning all night long . . . ,” the students sang as parents recorded the performance on their cellphones and curious passersby added to the growing crowd surrounding the 15-foot menorah.

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The choir, HaZamir, was lead by co-conductors Scott Sokol and Dan Wolf. The group of about 20, which is a local chapter of the International Jewish Teen Choir, sang traditional Hanukkah songs such as “Maoz Tzur” — which roughly translates to “Rock of Ages.”

Members of HaZamir, a Jewish teen choir, performed songs outside of Macy’s before a menorah lighting at Downtown Crossing on Sunday.
Michael Swensen for The Boston Globe
Members of HaZamir, a Jewish teen choir, performed songs outside of Macy’s before a menorah lighting at Downtown Crossing on Sunday.

“Out of all the holidays in the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah is a happy holiday,” said Rabbi Rachmiel Liberman of the Congregation Lubavitch Synagogue before lighting the menorah under the Macy’s awning.

“It is more important this year to do this so publicly,” Liberman said, referencing the shooting in Pittsburgh and the continued incidents of anti-Semitism both nationally and locally.

“These are happy, celebratory songs,” Sokol said. “We all need a little celebration this time of year, especially now.”

Mayor Marty Walsh, who attended both lightings along with city councilors Josh Zakim and Annissa Essaibi-George, stressed the importance of coming together during his remarks.

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“We pray that this light leads to goodness all over the world,” Walsh said.

Sokol sang a blessing as Liberman lit the middle candle and helped the mayor to light the far right candle.

At the lighting on the Boston Common, hosted by Chabad of Downtown Boston, Back Bay, and Beacon Hill, Zakim joined several rabbis and danced in a circle to “Hava Nagila.” Walsh helped to light the menorah.

On each of the next seven nights, another candle will be lit, spreading joy.

“The best antidote to negativity is the light,” Rabbi Yosef Zaklos of Chabad Downtown Boston said. “A little bit of goodness and light makes all the difference, it has a ripple effect.”

Maddie Kilgannon can be reached at maddie.kilgannon@globe.com.