BY DIANA BIERMAN
What’s nine feet tall and carved out of a 500-pound block of ice? The menorah lit at the Chabad Jewish Center of Suffern’s annual Chanukah celebration!
The event, held on December 10 at the Suffern Community Center gazebo and led by Rabbi Shmuel Gancz, featured lighting of the unusually tall ice menorah. The children’s choir of Chabad’s Hebrew school sang prayers and songs as it was lit.
Following the lighting, around 20 different Chanukah-themed booths were set up for the kids inside the community center. From candle- and donut-making to creating edible menorahs to a station designated for spinning dreidels, children (and adults) rejoiced in the Jewish holiday.
There aren’t many local Chanukah events, Rabbi Gancz explained, and in honor of the growing Jewish community, he enjoys doing something special to celebrate the holiday each season.
“It’s a time to spread joy,” he said. And indeed, the rabbi did spread joy as he walked around the community center handing out one-dollar bills to all of the children in attendance. Giving money, or “gelt,” on Chanukah is a long-time tradition dating back to the 17th century.
“People think of gelt as chocolate, but the custom really comes from money,” explained Rabbi Gancz’s wife, Devorah.
Two main sponsors of the celebration were David and Sharon Stern, who have been happy supporters of similar events for a number of years. “It’s a great way to bring the Jewish community together,” David said. “You can just see it, everyone has a smile on his or her face.”
“Everyone works so hard to put the event together,” Sharon added.
Echoing that feeling was Suffern Mayor Dagan Lacorte. “It’s truly a wonderful event,” he said. “I feel so privileged to be a part of it.”
Adding to the holiday spirit, Bobby and the Israelites, a six-piece band, gave a rousing performance of Chanukah-themed music.
Last year, Chabad held a similar event, but constructed the menorah out of kosher, nondairy chocolate instead of ice. Around 400-500 people come out to join in the fun this year and last.
A Chanukah menorah is a candelabrum with eight candleholders in a row, including a ninth in the middle, which holds the candle that lights the other candles. One candle is lit with that candle, called the Shammash, the first night, two the second, and so on, until the final night when all the candles are lit.
Chanukah, or the “Festival of Lights,” which began at sundown on Dec. 8 and will conclude on Dec. 16 this year, features candle-lighting, latkes (potato pancakes) and gift-giving. It commemorates the miracle of one day’s worth of oil that burned for eight days when the Maccabees rededicated the holy Temple in Jerusalem after their victory over the Syrian-Greeks.