The glow of a 15-foot menorah and the US Navy band’s performance of Hanukkah songs brought hundreds downtown Sunday evening for a menorah-lighting ceremony to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah.
Jewish leaders were joined by a crowd including Catholics and Protestants near Downtown Crossing, where many participants stopped on their way to another event or after a day of shopping to see the first candle lit.
Rabbi Rachmiel Liberman of Congregation Lubavitch Synagogue in Brookline highlighted the importance of the public celebration, not only for Jews but for those of all faiths.
Hanukkah is an eight-day festival that commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 B.C., after the Jewish people defeated the Greek army and regained access to the holy site.
“Hanukkah is very important because it represents the first fight of freedom of religion,” Liberman told the crowd.
“Now more than ever, the message of the Hanukkah flames should be spread forth. All people should be able to display symbols of their religion publicly, as we do here.”
The rabbi said he hoped the diversity of the event’s participants would send a message of religious tolerance to people in Paris and victims of terrorism around the world.
“This will bring a loud and clear message to the whole world — for freedom of religion, freedom from oppression, and that all religions should be recognized,” Liberman said in an interview.
Several elected officials attended the ceremony, which has been held annually since 1980.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who helped Liberman light the menorah, asked people to celebrate their differences and their shared values, especially in the wake of recent tragedies.
“Light always strives out of darkness even in the hardest of times,” the mayor said.
Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman Joseph Kennedy expressed similar sentiments.
“In the midst of tragic events, both at home and abroad, gatherings like this show that we are strongest when we stand as one,” Kennedy said.
For some, the event was an opportunity to come together in a show of interfaith unity.
Ellen Reilly, who lives in downtown Boston, said she and her mother often attend both the menorah-lighting and tree-lighting ceremonies in the city.
“We do it to be part of the community that is here,” Reilly said. “There needs to be more respect for all religions, and we can show support by being here.”
For Amy Lieberman, a 23-year-old who recently moved from Maryland, the celebration provided comfort during a holiday season spent away from family.
She said she was grateful to be able to honor her faith in a public space.
“It’s really nice that we are able to have a public celebration like this,” she said. “Not everywhere in the world and not at every point in time could people do that.”