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Her breath billowing in a cloud of fog in front of her, Laurie Franklin welcomed the crowd of more than 50 to the menorah lighting at Har Shalom, celebrating the first night of Hanukkah.

"Hanukkah is this amazing holiday that happens in a dark time of the year,” said Franklin, the spiritual leader of the congregation who will be ordained as a rabbi in January.

Har Shalom has held the lighting ceremony in front of its building on Russell Street since 2014, when a special 9-foot-tall menorah called a hanukkiah — with lightbulbs in place of candles — commissioned by the congregation was built by students from the welding program at Missoula College.

Before the “candle” of the hanukkiah was lit, Franklin led the crowd in reciting three blessings, one for the candles, one for Hanukkah and one for the start of something new.

“I always say that blessing when I eat the first watermelon of the year,” Franklin said.

When the blessings were finished, two people visiting Missoula from Japan — the winners of Franklin’s invitation to whoever came from the farthest away — were given the opportunity to flip the switch to light the first candle, with a cheer from the crowd as the glow lit the faces of the audience.

“I always forget just how bright it is,” Franklin said. “By the last night it lights up everything here.”

Josh Elmer said while he doesn't attend Har Shalom, he lives nearby and came to the lighting ceremony to show solidarity.

"I feel like, especially with some of the things that have been happening recently, we could all do with having a better feeling of unity between us," he said.

Under the light of the first candle, Franklin retold the traditional story of Hanukkah, starting with the Israelites victory over the invading Hellenistic forces and the reclaiming of the Temple in Jerusalem. In the re-dedication that followed, the Israelites found only a small pot of oil to relight the menorah. In an act of “apparent divine intervention,” Franklin said, the container which should have lasted only a day kept the lamp lit for eight days.

“The rabbis wanted to celebrate a holiday that had to do with throwing off an oppressor,” she said. “Eight days is not just eight days. Eight days is representative of realms beyond the normal.”

Lighting of the hanukkiah will continue each night of Hanukkah at 5:30 p.m. at Har Shalom, located on Russell Street across from the Missoula Family YMCA.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.