1st night of Hanukkah lights up Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square

Menorah Lighting

Hundreds gathered at Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square for the 39th annual menorah lighting Dec. 7, celebrating the first day of Hanukkah.Mark Graves/The Oregonian

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Never before has Michelle Japhet attended the annual menorah lighting in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.

“This is my first time here, because I feel it is more important than ever,” Japhet said.

Amid the backdrop of the Israel-Hamas war, hundreds of people gathered downtown to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah. Private security, Portland police, park rangers and others lined the perimeter of the square, which was fenced off for the event. People who wanted to participate needed to register in advance.

Even with the enhanced precautions, Japhet said she was glad to see smiling faces in the crowd.

“I’m very happy to see so many people here coming together to celebrate peacefully,” she said.

Thursday’s event was organized by Chabad of Oregon, and featured music, dancing and platters of latkes. The lighting ceremony was part of a live stream that included Hanukkah celebrations across the globe, according to event organizer and Rabbi Motti Wilhelm.

“Jewish people around the world are going to be gathering to light their first candle of the menorah, with the message that light is stronger than darkness, and hope is stronger than despair,” Wilhelm said.

During the ceremony, several people tried to sneak in with banners in support of Palestinians in Gaza. Two people managed to cut into the front of the stage of the event around 5:40 p.m. and displayed a painted sheet. They were quickly escorted out by security, and people in the crowd shouted for the demonstrators to leave.

Ten minutes later, three other protesters on the outskirts of the crowd removed a hidden banner from underneath one of the group members’ shirts. They were caught before they could unfold it, and escorted out.

Hundreds of pro-Gaza demonstrators congregated at the city’s tree-lighting ceremony in Pioneer Courthouse Square Nov. 24.

Despite the small disturbances Thursday night, festivities continued as planned. For Jay Gilbert, Hanukkah is a time for Portland’s Jewish community to come together.

“I think it’s special that this many people are coming out, and we can have one voice for this nice holiday,” Gilbert said. “It’s a show of unity, and solidarity.”

The menorah, lit each year to honor the oil-burning lamp from Hanukkah legend, will remain in Pioneer Courthouse Square until Dec. 15.

In Beaverton and Hillsboro, similar menorah lightings were held. Those who missed the first lighting events can attend the Gresham menorah lighting on Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Gresham Chabad Jewish Center at 401 N.E. 2nd Street. There will also be an event Sunday at Tanner Springs Park in Portland’s Pearl District starting at 4:30 p.m.

– Austin De Dios; adedios@oregonian.com; @austindedios; 503-319-9744

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