As darkness gathered Sunday night across The Marketplace, Rabbi Shmuel Schlanger had Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall light a large menorah celebrating the fifth night of Hanukkah.
The electric lights had ambient competition from the nearby restaurants and movie theater, but Schlanger's message was stronger.
We must, he said, "continue to increase light wherever we see darkness."
That message, which Schlanger said came from a recent Facebook posting by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recalling an audience he once shared with the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson, is particularly important today when darkness is not only a time of day but too often a way of thinking.
"Our belief in God will always...help us get where we belong," said Schlanger, who with his wife, Esther, is co-director of Chabad of Bakersfield.
The crowd of about 150 people mingled around the fountain, listening to live music and munching on sufganiyot, or round deep-fried jelly doughnuts.
"It really helps me identify with a community that I really feel part of," said Gaby Scully, who brought her children Nora, 11, Glen, 9, and Adam, 8 to the celebration.
"I think it's a really wonderful thing to recognize this holiday."
The music was provided by Schlanger's children, although he himself sang several songs and played guitar. His son, Mendy, 10, also played guitar, while Leah, 11, played drums and Chaya Mushka, 7, was on keyboards.
Bernice Black kept time with her feet from her perch at the edge of the fountain, which was turned off for the lighting. For her, watching the children play music was especially thrilling as she has known them since they were infants.
"I enjoy the camaraderie. I enjoy the religiosity," said Black. "I just enjoy being in the atmosphere.
"When you light (menorah candles) at home, you're doing it because it's part of your heritage. When you light here, it's being part of a group."
While children chased each other around the fountain's edge, fueled by chocolate Hanukkah gelt, or coins, and the sufganiyot, their parents mingled with friends.
Alexander Mathew, though, had come alone.
"Even as a Christian, I celebrate the Jewish festivals," he said. "The lighting of the Hanukkah lamp is a symbol of overcoming the darkness.
"I come every year."