PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The first candle on the menorah is lit as Hanukkah celebrations continue throughout the week. This year, Jewish communities worldwide mark the year of Hakhel, the Jewish year of gathering.

“This year of the Jewish calendar is the year of gathering. Gathering together as a community, gathering within ourselves, gathering all those we know together and to reinforce our principles, to reinforce that which we stand for and reinforce our commitment,” Rabbi Motti Wilhelm, the Chabad of Oregon said.

The rabbi explained that Hanukkah celebrations in the home typically include the lighting of the menorah, family gatherings, telling the story of Hanukkah and eating latkes. He added that Hanukkah celebrations also include public gatherings, from the White House to Portland — where a public menorah was lit in Pioneer Square for the 39th year with hundreds of people in attendance including Ukrainian refugees, Rabbi Wilhelm said.

“We lit the first candle, and we shared the message that light is stronger than darkness and that even when it is very dark, one can always light a candle and a little light dispels a lot of darkness,” Rabbi Wilhelm said.

Despite seeing a rise in antisemitism throughout the year, Rabbi Wilhelm highlighted the importance of Hanukkah gatherings to spread positive messages and unite.

“Unfortunately, I have seen that rise. I experienced it last night in Pioneer Square in a very jarring way and so the forces of antisemitism and the forces of darkness are present, we know that in a very, very real way this year. But that makes it even more important to light a candle and spread the message that light will always win darkness,” Rabbi Wilhelm said.

He continued “because darkness simply dissipates, it simply disappears. It’s simply not present in the face of light. So, while we have to kind of stay strong and we have to stand strong, we also need to just remember the power of light and share light.”

Despite some people sharing negative comments at the Portland celebration, the rabbi said there were “overwhelmingly… a lot of good people,” in attendance.

The rabbi also shared ways for Portlanders to support the Jewish community.

“I think, first of all, showing up, sharing a positive message. Showing up could be in person, but it could also be online, it could be sharing a message of Hanukkah,” Rabbi Wilhelm said. “And I think primarily, it’s just to share this message that together, we are all ambassadors of light…it’s a year of gathering, of connection and we’re all connected, and we need to stand connected and to be intolerant of negative speech, but more than that to promote wonderful, supportive…and good, positive sentiments among each other.”