GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Sunday night is the first night of Hanukkah, and Grand Rapids celebrated with a menorah lighting downtown with a display for all to see.

The first candle was lit Sunday night on a giant menorah at Calder Plaza. It was an event organized by the Chabad House of Western Michigan.

It’s a light in the darkness, said Yosef Weingarten, a rabbi for 45 years at the Chabad House.

“To light up the world with goodness and kindness,” Weingarten said. “Lighting a candle … it’s the idea of freedom. The idea of religious freedom. The idea of peace and harmony for the entire world.”

An ice menorah was also sculpted out during the event Sunday. Grand Rapids firefighters dropped down gelt coins from the top of their ladder to kids below.

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem and rededication of the Second Temple.

“The same miracles that we had then we need today,” Weingarten said. “We need to light up that darkness.”

For the next eight nights, Jewish people around the world will light menorahs like the one at Calder Plaza. Hanukkah will Monday, Dec. 26 this year.

Hanukkah comes at the end of a year that saw a wave of antisemitism.

In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League found that antisemitic incidents in Michigan rose by 120%. Michigan had the fifth highest number of antisemitic incidents of any state in the country.

When News 8 asked Weingarten about his reaction to the rising antisemitism, the rabbi replied, “each one of us needs to do more to illuminate the world and by showing acts of kindness.”

“Showing acts of light,” Weingarten explained. “Not just one night. But the second night to add to the light. That is the idea of freedom.”

Emma Johns, a senior at Jenison High School and a member of a Jewish teen group, CTeen, said that she is scared by growing antisemitism.

“Our communities have lived in fear for a very long time,” Johns explained.

Still, she said there is hope for her community.

“The fact that we talk about it so much more, the fact that even through that fear, we celebrate here like we do today, means so much,” she said. “It gives me hope that our community will live on and be proud of who we are.”

Ed Miller, another member of the Jewish community, said it is a “wonderful thing” to have a menorah lighting right in downtown Grand Rapids.

“It’s very important that all religions and all beliefs are recognized and are publicly recognized,” Miller said.

“I am so grateful for our community to welcome us, and to do it in the Calder Plaza means so much,” Johns added.

Weingarten said that the Jewish community is growing in Grand Rapids. Johns said that she’s encouraged by all the young people taking part.

“To represent your faith and to represent your community is so important,” Johns added. “So to see all these young kids, all these CTeen groups be proud and serve their communities is so important to grow that faith and that pride.”

Johns said it doesn’t take much to make a difference.

“Just recognize your neighbors, your family members, your friends are Jewish,” she said. “They would love to hear ‘Happy Hanukkah’ or ‘Happy Holidays’ and just being recognized means so much.”