GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Festival of Lights was in full swing Sunday night. Dozens of people gathered in downtown Grand Rapids for the first night of Chanukah — a tradition that started in 1988.
This is the fourth year that 16-year-old Sarea Hefer and her family showed up to celebrate.
“A lot of happiness and celebration with a bunch of other Jews, so it’s really cool," she told FOX 17.
Sarea goes to Hudsonville High School. Last semester, though, she studied in Israel, giving her new perspective on this holiday.
“I’m definitely more proud of who I am and way happier to be here celebrating together,” she said.
Chanukah is Hebrew for "dedication." As the story goes, the Jews were trying to rededicate their Temple in Jerusalem after fighting off their Syrian oppressors.
However, when they went to light the menorah, there was only enough oil to keep the candles burning for a day — or so they thought.
Instead, the flames stayed strong for eight night.
According to Rabbi Yosef Weingarten, Director of the Chabad of West Michigan and organizer of the annual menorah lighting ceremony, the Chanukah miracle comes with a message.
“A little light dispels a lot of darkness," he told FOX 17.
Now, each year, they use the largest menorah in West Michigan to spread that message, to go along with traditional Chanukah food like jelly donuts and latkes.
New this year was an LED Robot walking around the crowd. Rabbi Weingarten said he likes to get creative every year as a way to engage and inspire the people in attendace.
“To give them inspiration that they should go home, light their menorah, and bring the Chanukah festival into their own homes, and their own school, and their surroundings — altogether make a better place for us to live in this world," he said.
The menorah will continue to stand tall at the Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids for the next eight days. Each night, they'll burn an additional light until Dec. 6, the final night of Chanukah.