CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thursday is the first night of Hanukkah 2023, and is being marked by celebrations across the Chicago area.
Hundreds of people are expected to gather at Chabad of Northbrook at sundown to officially celebrate the holiday's start.
As Jewish people get ready to celebrate the festival of light, rabbis said this year's holiday is especially meaningful.
"Unfortunately there's a lot of darkness in the world, and negativity, and the message of Hanukkah is that instead of hiding, we've got to shine," said Rabbi Meir Moscowitz, regional director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois.
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Rabbi Moscowitz is preparing his congregation with a message of hope.
"People are asking 'what can I do? What can I do to be proud of my heritage, to be proud of who I am?'" he said. "I like to zoom in on the message of the power of light over darkness."
As the Israel-Hamas war rages on in the Middle East, with a mounting death toll and uncertainty over when peace will arise, Rabbi Moscowitz asks his congregation to embrace their Jewish heritage.
"We want to go out and be proud of who we are, of what we are, light the Menorah both in public and at home," he said.
Hanukkah is a time of joy and renewal, but the raging war left some with mixed feelings.
"We're supposed to love life at the same time that we know that it's a very hard time for us," said Judy Kotzin, Evanston resident.
At the Israeli Consulate in Chicago, surrounding the sufganiyot, or Israeli jelly donuts, dreidels and chocolate gelt were photos of the many hostages still held by Hamas.
"While we'll be celebrating the Festival of Lights, they'll be remaining in the darkness in Gaza," said Yinam Cohen, Israel Consul General to the Midwest.
Illinois State Police are urging faith communities to be vigilant when celebrating this holiday season, writing in part, "With rising tensions in the Middle East and the escalating Israel-Hamas War, there is the potential for violence to be carried out by terrorist groups and supporters pushing their agendas."
"I am always careful of my surroundings and I think a person always needs to be that, especially today when hatred is being promoted," said Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, executive director of Chabad of Evanston.
Rabbi Klein urges caution and awareness as Hanukkah celebrations get underway, but also says there's no reason to take it too far.
"That concern shouldn't paralyze you," he said. "For me, Hanukkah means this time that we can say be proud, be proud of who you are. Be proud to be Jewish, put on that yarmulke, do a mitzvah, put on your Jewish star, your mezuzah."
Police were on hand in the north suburbs for menorah lightings and Hanukkah celebrations.
"Terrorists may look to holiday events, particularly those of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths, as potential targets to instigate violence," state police warned in a statement.
But on this night, many said they refuse to give into fear.
"Maybe we keep in mind all those who aren't celebrating tonight, but we're alive and as long as we're alive, we have to live every minute the way we would," said David Rubel, Evanston resident.
Illinois State Police warning of heightened calls for violence this holiday season, and they're urging the public to report anything out of the ordinary.