Rabbi Sam Weiss of Congregation Beth El lights the first candle in a menorah Sunday at a Hanukkah party. Families from Beth Israel joined the festivities. The Jewish Festival of Lights began at sundown Sunday and lasts for eight days, , Dec.18, 2022. Credit: Judy Harrison / BDN

“Imagine if your cell phone was at 10 percent but lasted eight days,” began the caption on Bangor Reform synagogue member Melinda Wentworth’s T-shirt.

”Now you understand Hanukkah.”

Wentworth, 65, of Monson was one of more than 50 adults and children who gathered Sunday morning at Congregation Beth El on French Street to eat traditional Hanukkah foods and play games associated with the holiday. They were joined by members of Congregation Beth Israel, the Queen City’s Conservative synagogue on York Street. It was the first time in three years that either shul has been able to hold a community gathering for the holiday due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Brian Kresge, president of Beth Israel .

“It’s lovely to be back,” said Kresge, 46, of Winterport. “This season is a little brighter than it’s been the past couple of years. That is really hopeful.”

Wentworth agreed.

“It is a joy,” she said. “It’s wonderful to be able to get together because Hanukkah is all about getting together with friends and family and eating latkes.”

Beth El Rabbi Sam Weiss and others began grating the potatoes for the latkes at 8 a.m. Sunday. By 11 a.m., the smell of frying latkes filled the synagogue as people began arriving. Others brought jelly doughnuts to share.

Three-year-old Maggie Mae Kazdoy places candles in a menorah Sunday at the family Hanukkah party at Congregation Beth El. Members of Congregation Beth Israel joined the festivities. The Jewish Festival of Lights began at sundown Sunday and lasts for eight days, Dec.18, 2022. Credit: Judy Harrison / BDN

Despite the snowstorm Sunday, Weiss, 32, said he was not worried the weather would dampen the celebration.

“Why worry about the weather? We’re commemorating a miracle,” he said.

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judah Maccabee in 165 B.C. after the temple had been destroyed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria. The oil found in the temple should have lasted just one day but miraculously burned for eight.

The holiday lasts eight days, with an additional candle in a menorah lit each night by the shamash, or helper candle, and includes the exchanging of gifts.

Other traditions include eating foods cooked in oil, such as latkes — fried potato pancakes — and jelly doughnuts called sufganiyot.

It is a minor religious holiday, but its December celebration has given it more significance as a cultural tradition, especially in Western countries where Christmas and all its religious and secular trappings dominate public and private activities.

The first Hanukkah gifts were coins, nuts and sweets that families in Eastern Europe used hundreds of years ago as they played with the dreidel. Spinning the dreidel, or top, is a popular Hanukkah game in which each player takes turns trying to acquire the treats heaped in the kitty.