SAN FRANCISCO – A tradition that began in 1975 continued as the first candle was lit on the Bill Graham Menorah at San Francisco's Union Square on Thursday, marking the start of Hanukkah.
Despite anxiety over the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, along with rising anti-Semitism, the night was about family and celebration.
For the Berlin family, the lighting ceremony is a yearly tradition. It's a time for relatives and friends to celebrate Hanukkah together. This year, a cousin from Israel was able to join them but for Liel Kadustin, it's the first time her whole family hasn't been together at this time of year.
She said, "It's really hard because I have family and friends there."
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Kadustin came to the U.S. with her mother but for now, her dad is still in Israel. She says her family had been thinking about moving to the U.S. but the plans were accelerated after the October 7th attack. While she can't be with her dad this year, she is constantly in touch with him.
She said, "I know they're safe and they're happy and safe."
There was a heavy police presence around Union Square during the Menorah lighting ceremony. Many said the didn't have any safety concerns and just wanted to focus on celebrations. As those of Jewish faith will light a candle for eigh straight days, for some, each flame is a symbol of hope and peace.
Rachel Berlin said, "To have hope and to know that God is with us, especially in this crazy time in Israel."
Eugene Smirnoff added, "Uniting the Jewish people together… especially during the difficult times. It's very important to unite. God saves us from the horrible things that have happened in this world."
For Liel Kadustin, she not only prays for peace but hopes her family will be reunited next year.
The event at Union Square will continue throughout Hanukkah.
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