WATERVILLE — The weather was cold and the forecast threatened more snow, but on Sunday night, all were welcome at the Beth Israel Congregation for the annual Hanukkah party.

The event at the synagogue on 291 Main St. has been going on for decades, since at least the early 1970s. The congregation invites people from all religious backgrounds to come together and celebrate. The eight-day Jewish holiday began on Dec. 12 and concludes on Dec. 20, and is also known as the Festival of Lights.

Rabbi Rachel Isaacs said she didn’t know how many people from the area would attend the party, which ran from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. Last year, she said there were about 60 attendees who turned out, which is normal for the event.

The celebration included events such as singing and the spinning of dreidels, and community members brought food to go along with the latkes — a fried potato pancake — round jelly doughnuts and soup provided by the church. The latkes and doughnouts are fried in oil, which is symbolic of the holiday. Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem, and despite having only enough oil to light a menorah for one day, it stayed burning for eight days.

Isaacs, who was once named one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis by the Jewish Daily Forward, said they had to wait for the sun to go down before could light the candles on the menorah, which they did by having everyone gather around a table with the candles, and then sing songs and blessings as they lit candles. She said the event was for everyone, and not just the Jewish community.

“It’s a party for everybody in mid Maine,” she said.

After lighting the candles and singing a few other songs, Isaacs said she was grateful for “small miracles” in everyday life. Hanukkah isn’t celebrated with a big bonfire, she said, but rather with individual, small candles everyone lights. She said in “times of darkness,” when a person doesn’t feel they have the strength or power to expel that negativity, it was important to remember that even a small, individual candle can make a light in the darkness.

“All you need is your little candle,” she said to the 30 or so people gathered around the table.

After lighting the candles, Isaacs led the group over to the spread of food for a blessing. As the group meandered over to the food, Miles Rogals, of Belfast, said he had been invited by family friends to the celebration. He and his family went to a similar celebration last year in Rockland, he said, and since the region has a small Jewish community, it was good to come out for these celebrations.

“It’s always nice to get together,” he said.

The party occurred nearly a year to the day after a swastika, an emblem used by the Nazi party during the Holocaust, was painted on a large rock at the Devil’s Chair hiking trail at Quarry Road Recreation Center. In response, more than 200 people from around the state gathered at Beth Israel for an interfaith service in support of Jewish residents.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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