Hundreds of people gathered at Portland’s Director Park Sunday evening to celebrate the first night of Hanukkah.

For Rabbi Motti Wilhelm, Hanukkah is a time to celebrate light’s triumph over darkness.

“Tonight’s message is that a little light dispels a lot of darkness,” Wilhelm said. 

Rabbi Motti Wilhelm, right, watches as children light a candle using the flame from the menorah at Director Park for the first night of Hanukkah on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Portland, Ore.

Rabbi Motti Wilhelm, right, watches as children light a candle using the flame from the menorah at Director Park for the first night of Hanukkah on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Portland, Ore.

Donald Orr/OPB

“Never should a person resort to despair, to hopelessness, to feeling that the world is dark. Because we always have the power of lighting a candle.”

Wilhelm is the executive director of the Chabad of Oregon, the center for Jewish Life in Portland. The center helped put on the celebration to light the first candle. Wilhelm said for him Hanukkah is also a time to reflect on the freedom to celebrate the holiday.

“It’s a great ability to express our religious values and express the freedom of religion, that we hold so dear, and this country holds so dear,” Wilhelm said.

“It’s an incredible gift to be able to do that here in the United States, particularly in the city of Portland.”

Rabbi Moshe Wilhelm, left, stands with a dreidel mascot at the first night of Hanukkah event put on by Chabad of Oregon at Director Park on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Portland, Ore.

Rabbi Moshe Wilhelm, left, stands with a dreidel mascot at the first night of Hanukkah event put on by Chabad of Oregon at Director Park on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Portland, Ore.

Donald Orr/OPB

With its first candle lit, Portland’s Peace Menorah joined more than 15,000 large public menorahs sponsored by Chabad in more than 100 countries around the world. Sunday marked the 36th annual Chabad of Oregon Hanukkah celebration in Portland.

Along with the menorah on display at Director Park, Wilhelm joined others in high spirits as families took photos in front of an additional menorah sculpture carved entirely out of ice. People danced with a dreidel mascot and sang along to “Hanukkah La Bamba,” among other songs for the Jewish holiday.

The celebration also featured children’s author Eric Kimmel, who read from his book “Hanukkah Bear” to children in attendance. Kimmel followed by narrating essays for the winners of the Oregon Hanukkah Essay contest, sixth-grader Yehudis Rivkin and fourth-grader Akiva Rose. 

Children’s author Eric Kimmel reads his book ‘Hanukkah Bear’ with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka to kids celebrating at Director Park on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Portland, Ore.

Children’s author Eric Kimmel reads his book ‘Hanukkah Bear’ with illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka to kids celebrating at Director Park on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Portland, Ore.

Donald Orr/OPB

“Ways I can be a helpful citizen are encouraging what is right, protesting what is wrong, and remind people that words are some of our most powerful aspects,” Rose, age 9, wrote for the contest.

“Words might as well be the most amazing and useful things all of us possess.”

This year’s ceremony was capped off with help from Portland Fire & Rescue, who participated in a “Hanukkah Gelt Drop” — chocolate coins fell from the top of a raised ladder on a fire truck for children to catch.

The first candle is now lit for the Portland Peace Menorah on display at Director Park. A new candle will be lit every night until the menorah is entirely lit on the eighth day.

Dozens of additional Hanukkah celebrations will continue throughout the remaining days of the holiday at Chabad centers in Oregon and around the world.