PORTLAND — Each time that Rabbi Moshe Wilansky bent over the side of the Portland Fire Department’s Ladder One bucket to light a lantern on the menorah, a gust of wind blew the match out.

Finally, after several attempts, Wilansky was able to light one lantern, officially kicking off Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.

The giant nine-branched candelabrum will remain on the City Hall plaza through Hanukkah, which ends Dec. 9.

About 75 people braved cold winds Wednesday night to watch the ceremony from the steps of City Hall. Afterward, they went inside to eat doughnuts and potato latkes. Entertainment was provided by Maine Meshugoyim.

Wilansky reminded the crowd that they had joined thousands of people around the world who gathered on the first day of Hanukkah to celebrate their religious freedom and the triumph of light over darkness.

“The message here tonight is to have the courage to practice your freedom of religion,” Wilansky said.

Hanukkah began at nightfall Wednesday. It was celebrated across the state, at places such as Temple Beth El on Deering Avenue in Portland.

In addition to lighting a menorah, Temple Beth El had live music, potato latkes and crafts for everyone who attended.

Wilansky, the rabbi at Chabad Lubavitch of Maine in Portland, said Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the second century, when the Maccabees rebelled and reclaimed Jerusalem from the oppressive Syrian empire.

According to the Talmud, a one-day supply of oil needed to sanctify the temple burned for eight days, giving the ancient Hebrews the time they needed to prepare additional oil.

Ian Michel of Portland, who observed the menorah lighting Wednesday, said it’s important for the menorah to be seen by all who pass by City Hall because it is a reminder to focus on the light in dark times.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. read a City Council proclamation, saying the lighting of the Hanukkah menorah symbolizes the ideal of religious freedom and “adds a quality of life to our city.”

The grand menorah lighting at the state Capitol in Augusta will be held at noon today in the Hall of Flags.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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