By Betty Yu

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – San Francisco marked the beginning of Hanukkah Sunday evening with the lighting of a giant menorah towering over Union Square, in a ceremony that for many in attendance held greater meaning this year.

For many Jews, the universal message of light over darkness is especially pronounced this Hanukkah in light of the October shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA that left 11 dead, along with reports of anti-Semitic incidents on the rise. Jews say this holiday is a reminder of the community’s solidarity and identity.

“Growing up, anti-Semitism was kind of over; it was something my parents and grandparents had to deal with, until 2016 when it came kind of roaring back,” said San Francisco resident Max Slavkin.  “But I feel more resilient. I think things like tonight are a reminder of how much more joy and beauty there is in all of this.”

About 200 people gathered for Sunday’s first lighting.  It was a chance to mark Hanukkah’s message of survival. It is also known as the “Festival of Lights” to remind people of the miracle that occurred some 2,200 years ago, when Jews prevailed after their oppressors banned the Jewish religion and desecrated the Holy Temple.

“When you’re in big crowds, you’re afraid of the hate or what’s going to happen, but tonight was so beautiful to see how everyone came together,” said San Francisco resident Simone Wolk.

The menorah lighting was a new tradition for one newly engaged couple. “I’m going to be a part of his family, so I feel like it’s really a great experience to understand that culture, and be out there and celebrate,” said San Francisco resident Erin McNichol. “I did feel a little nervous about being in a crowd like this, but I think it’s more important than ever to come out.

Rabbi Yosef Langer of the Chabad of San Francisco said the menorah will be lit every night during the holiday at 5 p.m.

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