On the first night of Chanukah on December 22, hundreds attended the 5th annual “Chanukah on the Park” event. In front of Yellowstone Park, the first candle on an 18-foot menorah was lit.
The event is organized by Rabbi Mendy Hecht and Rebbetzin Chaya Hecht of Chabad of Forest Hills North (CFHN). It began with Adam The Escape Artist’s magic show with DJ Jordan spinning upbeat Jewish music and Chanukah tunes. Attendees danced with dreidel mascots and Chanukah clowns and even formed a conga line.
A variety of 500 donuts included chocolate, vanilla, custard, and traditional jelly donuts, while Chanukah menorahs and illuminated dreidel rings were distributed.
When FDNY Tower Ladder 135 and its truck arrived, Rabbi Hecht was elevated on a cherry picker to light the first candle.
“One light can light an infinite number of other flames and not lose anything,” he told the crowd. “This is how it is with love, since we can give and not run out of love. When we help someone and do a mitzvah, we are lighting another one’s soul and flame.”
The rabbi advised everyone to be mindful at all times, especially in the context of the recent anti-Semitic attack in Jersey City. Chanukah. Rabbi Hecht said, is a time to view one another as flames rather than wicks,.
“We are all flames and united, so light your friend’s flame now,” he said. “Wish them a happy Chanukah and a year of happiness and health. Let’s all be one bright light and flood the world with light.”
The crowd sang the high-spirited blessings with Chabad member Philippe Heilberg, who also co-sponsored the event. It was also made possible in partnership with the Parks Department,112th Precinct, and Counter Terrorism Units.
When the cherry picker reached over 30 feet, a countdown led to the “Grand Chanukah Gelt Drop” in which thousands of chocolate coins and miniature orange parachutes filled with dreidels dropped to the crowd below.
Lauren Ascher Rubenstein attended with her family.
“It was so wonderful to share the first night of Hanukkah with the community,” she said. “My toddler was so captivated by all the excitement. Traditions are something we look forward to, since they make us feel more connected to those around us. It’s a form of continuity of great customs, values, and culture from one generation to another.”
Karen Bass attended with her husband Leon.
“Seeing all my neighbors and the children enjoying themselves and building a sense of community is what Chanukah is all about,” she said.
“Chanukah teaches that through our actions, we have the ability to shed light onto the world,” said Sheryl Fetik. “I observed adults and children enjoying the music, dancing, the menorah lighting, and the Chanukah gelt that showered onto the crowd.”
Howard Pollack was at the event representing City Council speaker Corey Johnson.
“Chanukah is a celebration of freedom inspired faith, hope, and coverage even in the darkest of times,” he said. “It reminds us that it is okay to hope for a better tomorrow and always strive to seek hope in times of ultimate despair.”
CFHN will light the menorah in front of Yellowstone Park nightly at 6:30, and on Friday will host a Shabbat Chanukah dinner. Guests can RSVP online.
“We will be visiting our young and elders including the home-bound and those in nursing homes and hospitals,” Rabbi Hecht said. “And tag #sharethelights and #chabadoffhn with you in a photo at a menorah lighting in your home or at an event, or even receiving your menorah kit from us.”