Since 2015, the event has been organized by Rabbi Mendy Hecht and Rebbetzin Chaya Hecht of Chabad of Forest Hills North in partnership with Anshe Sholom Chabad JCC.
DJ Jordan once again energized the crowd, and children and adults danced with dreidel mascots and Chanukah clowns. Returning again this year was JJ's Holy Cow Artisanal Burgers, a kosher food cart from downtown Brooklyn. The Mad Science Show entertained the children.
“I felt a connection with everyone here,” said attendee Sandi Herschberg. “It made my heart glad to hear all the beautiful Chanukah songs in the middle of Forest Hills.”
To light the menorah, Rabbi Mendy Hecht was elevated in a cherry picker by FDNY Ladder 138. Michelle Friedman of Chabad’s C-Teen Central Queens helped light the “Shamash” (center candle).
“The world we live in today can be very dark,” Rabbi Hecht told the crowd. “Let each of us take this message of Chanukah and shine a little light onto this world.
“Add light through acts of goodness and kindness, such as helping a friend, neighbor, or stranger,” he added. “Imagine the power that we have to make this world a brighter place.”
After the menorah was lit, a countdown led to the Grand Chanukah Gelt Drop, or the dropping of thousands of chocolate coins.
“Before arriving in the U.S. in 1993, I never heard the word Chanukah in the Ukraine,” said Tara Levin. “The Yellowstone Park festival was the best Chanukah in my life. Rabbi Mendy’s leadership and big heart are the main keys to whatever he touches, and his energy is contagious and inspiring.”
Howard Rubin Baruch and other Chabad members helped Rabbi Hecht build the menorah.
“The event brought a lot of excitement to the Jewish community of Forest Hills,” he said. “Chanukah is the most widely celebrated holiday for Jews around the world, and it reminds me that we have to be strong as Jewish people despite the anti-Semitism throughout the nation.”
This year was the first time Rachel Sherman attended.
“I was surprised at how impressive the huge candles were, which made me think of the awesomeness the actual menorah must have had if this humble one made me very impressed,” she said.
For years Ron Bidwell and his wife, who live across the street, have attended.
“We love the music and historical perspectives we gain, not being acquainted with the Jewish religion,” he said. “It is heartwarming to see that with all the aggression recently toward the Jewish people, that they remain strong and united.”
Jonathan Herz attended with his wife, Jennie, and their two daughters.
“This was our first time at this event, and the kids were very excited,” he said. “You really can’t experience something like it anywhere else.”
Rabbi Hecht also thanked the Parks Department and 112th Precinct for helping make the event safe and successful.
“Every step is one big miracle,” he said. “We are very thankful to the 112th Precinct for the utmost safety and making sure a counterterrorism unit was present.”