Experiencing the joy of menorah-lightings, concerts and coins dropping from the sky
Sarah Barash and her husband, Rabbi Berel Barash, are getting ready to welcome a fleet of exuberant families to their annual Chanukah celebration. Since 2012, the co-directors of Chabad Jewish Center in Jupiter, Fla., have organized an event that has chocolate-coin gelt raining down from the sky—dropped from a helicopter, to be precise—with eager recipients just waiting to collect it.
“We say ‘go,’ and the kids can’t get enough of it,” she says. “There’s this frenzy; it’s exciting.” It gets children revved up for the holiday, but more importantly, about their Judaism, she says.
In addition to the Dec. 12 gelt drop, they’ll have a carnival for the entire community with people on stilts, laser tag, an obstacle course, balloon-twisting and Jewish music. As many as 400 people are expected to attend the festivities, which take place at the downtown Abacoa amphitheater.
We want everyone to feel the joy and light of Chanukah,” says Barash.
The eight-day holiday—also known as “The Festival of Lights”— starts this year on the night of Tuesday, Dec. 12 (the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev), and lasts through Wednesday, Dec. 20. The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication,” named because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE. A small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in G d. When they sought to light the Temple’s menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, u
ntil new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.
Chanukah will certainly be in the air, not only in Florida but around the world. Chabad of New Zealand will kick off the holiday by lighting the first menorah of the season in the easternmost part of the world. Thousands will attend the eight public menorah-lightings, and hundreds of holiday kits will be distributed across the country, including at the parliament in Auckland, as well as in Queenstown, Wellington and other cities. The very last lighting will be in Hawaii, far to the west, where residents and visitors alike will celebrate with Chabad of Kauai.
All told, Chabad-Lubavitch will be reaching an estimated 8 million Jews—more than half of the world’s Jewish population—with 700,000-plus menorahs and 2.5 million holiday guides in 17 different languages being distributed internationally. Some 15,000 large public menorahs will be erected, with public menorah-lightings and Chanukah events held in all 50 states and in 100 countries around the world, including at the most recent Chabad Houses in Uganda, Montenegro, Curaçao, Ibiza, Laos, Newfoundland and New Caledonia.
In the United States and Canada alone, Chabad plans to distribute 250,000 menorahs, 11,000,000 candles, 380,000 Chanukah guides and 200,000 chocolate-coin packets.
In New York City, which boasts the the largest menorah in the world—at 36 feet high (the lights are 32 feet high, the most permissible by Jewish law, with the center light reaching an additional 4 feet)—at Grand Army Plaza on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, some 300 menorah-topped cars and 55 mitzvah tanks (holiday-outfitted RVs) will drive down Fifth Avenue on Dec. 16 during the annual menorah parade. On the other coast, in San Francisco, thousands will gather for nightly lightings of the 25-foot “Bill Graham Menorah,” which was first lit in 1975 with funding from the late rock-music star.
And in Washington, D.C., as many as 5,000 people will gather on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at the National Menorah on the Ellipse in front of the White House lawn for the annual menorah-lighting ceremony and live music concert.
Festive in the Frigid Dakotas
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz, who with his wife, Mussie, co-directs Chabad of South Dakota will spend much of Chanukah on the road. Joined by a pair of yeshivah students from New York, they’ve got seven events in the works across the state, including one at the iconic Mount Rushmore (Dec. 19). They’ll be there with a 9-foot menorah-lighting in front of the famous faces of America presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
“Our founding fathers and presidents established this great country giving everybody the freedom of religion,” says the rabbi. “There’s no better place to express that than in front of the memorial.”
This is Alperowitz’s second Chanukah spent with the community. “Thanks to the great vision of the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory], Chanukah has become one of the most centrally observed festivals among the Jewish people in America,” he says.
“It really resonates with people—the idea that you can add light to the lives of those around you,” adds Mussie Alperowitz. “Ultimately, we see that Jews like to demonstrate their Judaism with pride.”
Rabbi Yonah Grossman, who co-directs Chabad of North Dakota in Fargo with his wife, Esti, holds public menorah-lightings and community celebrations in four different cities. They’re expecting dignitaries and locals to attend the events, which the Grossmans will arrive at via pickup truck, complete with a 14-foot menorah attached to the back. The 12-hour circuit will also have the couple and their children—ages 1, 3 and 5—visiting people in their homes, and of course, stopping to pose for pictures with their conversation-starter of a vehicle.
“The menorah symbolizes the dominance of light over darkness, and the power that a small amount of light has to dispel much darkness,” states Grossman. It’s an especially important message to share this year, he adds. “With the recent uptick in lone-wolf and other terrorist attacks, the message of Chanukah has never been more pertinent.”
Being in such a chilly location—temperatures in North Dakota average 20 or so degrees in December, and commonly dip below 0—drives the message of warmth home even further. As he says: “We have to warm up even the coldest places on earth.”
In Capitals Around the World
Russia, too, will see the bright lights of the holiday in a frost-covered environment. In Moscow, about 5,000 people are expected to attend a Chanukah concert on Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Kremlin Theater. There will also be a public menorah-lighting at the Kremlin’s Revolution Square on the first night of Chanukah, which is expected to attract a crowd of more than 2,000 people. Fifteen large menorahs will be erected in central locations throughout the city. More than 35,000 menorah kits will be distributed, and dozens of menorah-topped cars will drive around Moscow promoting awareness of the holiday.
Berlin will erect 25 large public menorahs, including at the location of last year’s terror attack, as well as a nightly lighting at the Brandenburg Gate. A public lighting on the first night, Dec. 12, at the Brandenburg Gate is expected to draw numerous government officials, including the Governing Mayor of Berlin Michael Muller and acting U.S. Ambassador to Germany Kent Logsdon. London’s Trafalgar Square will host a 30-foot, 13-ton menorah outfitted with specially designed environmentally friendly bulbs commissioned by the London Climate Change Agency.
A host of Chanukah events, including visits to senior citizens in centers or bedridden at home, are being planned in Manchester, where along with London was the site of terror attacks just months ago. Not far away in Paris, an annual menorah-lighting will take place on Sunday, Dec. 17, at the Eiffel Tower with an expected 7,000 participants, including the chief rabbis of Paris and France, as well as many government officials.
In Israel, Chabad-Lubavitch will hand out 300,000 sets of menorahs and candles to the public, as well as 430,000 traditional Chanukah jelly doughnuts (sufganiyot). Some 1,475 giant menorahs will be placed in city and town centers across the country, with another 5,350 menorahs featured in shopping malls, stores and offices.
And more than 1,000 people will celebrate the holiday at public menorah-lightings in 19 countries across Central Africa, including in Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya; Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, Nigeria; Luanda, Angola; Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo; and for the first official time, in Uganda, the 100th country with a permanent Chabad presence. Thousands of menorah kits will be distributed by Chabad rabbis and rabbinical students visiting Jewish homes, many of them Israeli, throughout Central Africa.
Back in the United States, Chaya Yaras, co-director at Chabad of Northeast Coral Springs, Fla., with her husband, Rabbi Moshe Yaras, will add something new to their Chanukah party, which they expect will draw between 500 and 700 people on Dec. 19, the last night of the holiday. The fire department will come with a truck outfitted with a tall ladder, and the chief himself will drop 2,000 gold coins into an empty space in a parking lot, where kids can collect them. The firefighters will stick around so children can explore the truck and learn the importance of fire safety, she says. Chabad will also hold a concert and menorah-lighting during the event, which takes place at an outdoor shopping center.
“Once or twice a year, we try to do something that’s citywide,” she says. “There’s something so powerful about everybody joining together to celebrate one holiday, coming together to have a good time and just sharing the happiness of Yiddishkeit.”
Chanukah begins this year on the night of Tuesday, Dec. 12, and continues through Wednesday, Dec. 20. For information, insights and events at Chabad centers around the world, visit: Chabad.org Chanukah.
By: Karen Schwartz