Ninth Annual “Chanukah on the Park” Underway

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Lighting The Way with A Festive Forest Hills Tradition, Uniting on Chanukah & Year-Round

By Michael Perlman

“Chanukah on the Park” and its symbolic 18-foot menorah continues to beam brighter each year in front of Yellowstone Municipal Park (Yellowstone Boulevard between 68th Avenue and Road) as a multi-generational, eventful ceremony filled with diverse activities that grows logistically and spiritually. On December 10, beginning at 3:30 PM, the 9th annual Chanukah on the Park, will take center stage on the fourth of eight nights, and hundreds of attendees will be ready to embrace the miracles of Chanukah. Additionally, Yellowstone Boulevard apartment building residents will once again have an aerial view.

This Forest Hills tradition originating in 2015, was founded by Rabbi Mendy Hecht and Rebbetzin Chaya Hecht of Chabad of Forest Hills North (CFHN), who also serve the community religiously and as humanitarians since 2012. The festival is another achievement that signifies how CFHN is a beacon of light in the community, continuing to spread the message behind the Chanukah lights year-round. “Chanukah is the miracle of light over darkness, and this year it is needed much more, when there is significant darkness and hate around us,” said Rabbi Mendy. “Chanukah on The Park is a way to unite the community and bring more light and positive energy to our neighborhood.”

Chanukah descends from the Hebrew term “chinuch,” meaning inauguration and education. The “Festival of Lights” rejoices the miracle of how a tiny cruse of oil, fit for a single-day supply, conveyed luster for eight days. In addition, it recalls the Jewish victory over a tyrant king and the temple’s rededication in Jerusalem. It is a tradition to eat fried latkes (potato pancakes), which symbolizes the miracle of the oil. Memorable Chanukah tunes include “Al Hanisim,” “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah,” “Mi Yimalel,” “Candlelight,” “Light Up The Nights,” “Ma’oz Tzur” and “I Have A Little Dreidel.”

The ambiance feels traditional yet innovative. “Every year, we must light the 18-foot Menorah, which is of #1 importance to spread the miracle of light, and we pursue it with our FDNY amazing team that comes to help light with a positive fire,” said Rabbi Mendy. A firefighter joins the rabbi to accomplish a noble endeavor from a cherry picker. The menorah is kindled with a torch, beginning with the “Shamash,” the central candle used to light the other candles.  

Rabbi Mendy explained additional details behind the much-anticipated event lineup. “We are bringing back our famous DJ Jordan, who is known for his great Chanukah hits and Jewish-themed songs. This year, he will especially play Jewish and Israeli-themed songs in support of our brethren in Israel. We change up the entertainment yearly, with something exciting and different that all ages love. This year, we will go even larger, bringing the world-famous ‘Flippenout Trampoline Show’ all the way from Utah. They will perform acrobatic stunts in the air off two trampolines and wall in between tens of meters high. That’s besides the over 30-foot high Chanukah Gelt (symbolic chocolate coin) drop off the FDNY Fire Truck that children also anticipate.” This is considered a CFHN novelty.

Dreidel mascots and clowns will be choreographing their way between the crowd. Every attendee is guaranteed to receive a traditional jelly donut, which will number over 500. Known as sufganiyot in Hebrew, this symbolic treat recalls Chanukah’s miracle of the oil. This event’s agenda adds to the diverse history of earlier events, where highlights included a BMX bike show, an illusionist, a magician, a fire show, an escape artist, a puppet show, and a mad science show.

Newly introduced are commemorative Chanukah gold, copper, and silver coins, which document history and will become a collector’s item. “The Jerusalem Mint” coins are heavily inscribed and feature menorahs, and read “Light Unto The Nations” and “Maccabee Miracles, 165 BCE.” “A coin will be gifted for at least $360 in donations (ten times, two times Chai as a biblical 18). Our coin features everything important in one, including a menorah, supporting Israel, terror victims, and Chabad.”

“Due to the attacks of October 7 and the uptick of antisemitism worldwide, we are making this year’s event in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Israel. We are uniting with them in this war against evil, by spreading further light, goodness, and kindness,” said Rabbi Mendy. The menorah lighting will convey an additional meaning this year, and a prayer for Israel will be recited. “This is so much more a reason to unite, show our support for Israel, and emphasize our Jewish Pride,” he continued.

CFHN will be implementing extra security measures to ensure everyone’s safety. “We thank the NYPD 112th Precinct for always stepping up to help protect us, together with Counter Terrorism Units,” said Rabbi Mendy.   

Last year, Rabbi Mendy delivered a heartfelt speech. “The light of the menorah is not just for us or our families, but for the people around us like the windows of the Holy Temple going outwards to bring light outwards.” He referenced and adapted a notable JFK quote, “Do not say what can my country do for me, but say what can I do for my country. Spread the light to others.”

To ensure a Chanukah on the Park success story, it entails several months of creative planning. Rabbi Mendy explained, “The 18-foot menorah is a sight within itself, and erecting it with permits is a serious job that needs much manpower and time. Entertainment is booked nearly a year in advance. We are always trying to make the event more streamlined, and I would say that it improves each year, as we learn from prior years.”

Upcoming Chanukah events also include a Chanukah Shabbat Dinner, a CKids of the Arts Sunday Club, Chanukah LegoLand, and CTeen Latke Cook-Off. Much light can be grasped now and year-round, as Rabbi Mendy and Rebbetzin Chaya work tirelessly. “We always offer weekly classes and Shabbat services, as well as many programs and events. We are also working on a building campaign to relocate into a larger facility, as we have grown, thank G-D,” said Rabbi Mendy.

Chanukah serves as a model for all inaugurations, including education, which is the most significant, although historically, the Greeks once issued decrees against Jewish education. “The Lubavitcher Rebbe often stressed the unique connection between Chanukah and education. It is a special time that inspires children to connect to their heritage, as can be seen by many customs, including the giving of Chanukah gelt,” said Rabbi Mendy. Chanukah is also a time of continued spiritual growth.

The traditions of Chanukah in the Holy Land vary somewhat from some of those observed in America or Australia, Rabbi Mendy’s native country. He explained, “In Israel, menorahs are displayed in glass boxes and sit outside homes unlike how in America, where you will mostly find them in windows or inside homes. It’s a truly beautiful sight in Jerusalem. Jelly donuts are served hot, unlike how they are served cold in America.” He also pointed out how the dreidel in Israel features the Hebrew alphabet, Nun (none), Gimmel (all), Hei (half) and Pay instead of Shin (some). “Since the Pay is the first letter representing the word Poh which means ‘here,’ it means that a great miracle happened here in Jerusalem,” he continued. 

Growing up, it was much different. He reminisced, “Early morning, we would go to the synagogue to see the Rebbe Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson live from Brooklyn, lighting the menorah and giving a talk to inspire us about Chanukah. The Rebbe would watch every country live light their menorah. This was another display of spreading light worldwide. In the early 1990s, it was before Facebook Live existed, but Chabad was always at the forefront of technology. Many traditions were the same, but our Chanukah on the Park in Melbourne, Australia was held during their summer in a larger area, unlike Forest Hills.”

It is important to spread Chanukah’s universal message to generate understanding and compassion. “Chanukah now should teach all people to be on the side of good, kindness, and light. Our Chanukah on the Park attracts people of all religions, being that we are uniting to spread light, morals, and ethics; a mission that should be near and dear to all. It is important to unite at such a dire time for all people. It is our moral duty to make this world more refined and good,” said Rabbi Mendy.

Chanukah among other beautiful events under the leadership of CFHN exemplifies togetherness year-round. “It teaches us that with one act, we can change the world. You do not have to be on a level to accomplish this. Your one good deed can perform wonders and make an impact. Kindness and good deeds (mitzvahs) are contagious, and coordinating events inspires me to pursue more. It is special to see so many people feeling inspired and uplifted.”

As the event is just days away, Rabbi Mendy said, “Keep spreading light, and I can’t wait to see you all together for the greatest event yet. Happy Chanukah!”

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