CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Throughout the holiday of Hanukkah, members of Tampa Bay’s Jewish community have gathered for public menorah lightings in downtown Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater Beach.

“Hanukkah is all about light,” Rabbi Levi Hodakov said at the Chabad of Clearwater’s celebration Tuesday night.

In response to a worrisome rise in anti-Semitism at home and abroad, Rabbi Hodakov said the Jewish people must never cower nor hide their faith.

“I think it’s more important than ever for us to gather, be loud, be proud of who we are and what we stand for,” he said.

Hanukkah commemorates the story of the Jewish people in ancient Israel defeating the Syrian-Greeks who tried to restrict their way of life and religious freedom. When they went to rededicate their temple in Jerusalem, they found only enough oil to burn for one day, but miraculously it lasted for eight.           

On the third night of Hanukkah following a spectacular sunset, Clearwater’s Mayor Frank Hibbard helped light a ten foot tall menorah atop a garage overlooking the beach.

“In addition to lighting the menorah that brings the physical light,” Rabbi Hodakov said, “performing acts of goodness and kindness also makes this world a much better, brighter place.”

To encourage more acts of kindness, this year Rabbi Hodakov decorated the menorah with “KIND bars.”

“I think promoting everyone just being kind to each other is a wonderful message that transcends through all religions,” Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter said.

Chief Slaughter said having officers at the Hanukkah celebration served two purposes.

“Certainly the Jewish faith is a significant constituent group that we just care deeply about and the other is making sure it’s a safe environment,” Chief Slaughter said. “Certainly, there are risks that come with events like this and we want to make sure that everyone is safe.”

The Anti-Defamation League reported that attacks, harassment and vandalism targeting American Jews reached an all-time high in 2021.

Despite ongoing safety concerns, Rabbi Hodakov said he is optimistic about the future.

“More than ever we are banding together,” he said. “We are going out saying the Jewish nation is alive and well.”

The eight-day Festival of Lights concludes next Monday evening.