The mercury might have dropped below freezing Sunday evening, but Lawrence's Jewish community was warmed by a ceremonial menorah lighting at South Park.
About 50 people gathered at the park, singing traditional songs and saying prayers as the 6-foot-tall menorah was lit in celebration of Hanukkah, which began Tuesday.
Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, of the Chabad Jewish Center, 1203 W. 19th St., said the public celebration was significant.
"For so long, Jews had to light the menorah in basements," hidden from view, he said. Tiechtel said the freedom to practice Hanukkah traditions was priceless.
"One candle can bring a lot of light," he said. "The lights we have in this world can light up the darkest and coldest nights."
The ceremony began with words from dignitaries from around the state, including City Commissioner Boog Highberger, County Commissioner Charles Jones and state Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence. It concluded with Tiechtel inviting attendees to enjoy latkes and warm apple cider. The menorah lighting was organized by the Chabad Jewish Center, but Tiechtel said members of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center participated. He welcomed people of all faiths to the park.
Lawrence resident Roman Lislitsyn and his wife braved the cold because they were curious about the menorah lighting.
"My wife and I decided to see what it looks like," he said. "We wanted to be involved a little bit in a Jewish cultural event."
Apart from being cold, Topeka resident Lauren Worcester was glad she made the drive to Lawrence. It was the first time she had seen a public lighting of a menorah.
"Not only does it remind you of the miracles God makes in your own life every year, but (it also reminds you) about the miracles that he created many, many years ago," Worcester, who came with her mother and two younger brothers, said.
For Gail Zukav-Ross, the public lighting held special meaning. It was only the second time such an event has taken place in Lawrence, and Zukav-Ross, who helped light one of six candles on the menorah, said it was important for Lawrence's Jewish community to celebrate the season amid numerous Christmas events in the city.
"It's very much to support the community," she said. "It's just a recognition of what the season means to Jewish families."