By BROOKE FELDMAN
VENTNOR – Chocolate coins floating from the sky, an illuminated 9-foot menorah and dozens of joyful community members can only mean one thing: Chabad at the Shore’s Hanukkah celebration.
The eighth Community Menorah Lighting took place Thursday night at the Chabad Chai Center on Atlantic Avenue drawing families from neighboring towns.
“We love to celebrate Hanukkah, and there’s no better place than being in Ventnor with our friends at Chabad,” said Linwood resident Sammy Hammond who brought her three children. “This is always the event of the year.”
Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport, director of Chabad at the Shore, hosts the free event to share the meaning of Hanukkah with the greater community.
“Hanukkah is not only a Jewish message, it is a universal message,” Rabbi Rapoport said. “It’s the message of light over darkness, freedom over oppression and good over evil.”
Hanukkah commemorates the story of the Maccabees, a small, vulnerable group of Jewish people who were persecuted because of their religion but were victorious over one of the mightiest armies in the second century BCE.
The victors sought to light the menorah in the rededicated Temple but only had enough oil for one night. The Maccabees lit the menorah anyway, and the light lasted for eight nights. The miracle of Hanukkah was born.
“The miracle is a message to all of us that we have to do our part to fight evil, hatred and bigotry,” Rabbi Rapoport said addressing the rise in antisemitism. “Each and every person has a spark of light inside of them. When we do acts of goodness or kindness, we are bringing light to the world around us.”
Leaning into the light was the theme of the night to ring in Hanukkah, otherwise known as the “Festival of Lights.”
“With the lighting of the first candle of the menorah this year, we need to look at the history of what the menorah has provided to the Jewish people,” Mayor Lance Landgraf said. “I would ask that we all look to that light tonight to help us through the dark times.”
There was plenty of light to go around. Chabad presented a brand-new LED menorah that towered over the crowd. With a giant torch in hand, Chabad attendee Chuck Goss climbed a ladder to light the first candle.
After the candle lighting attraction, celebrators enjoyed hot chocolate and jelly filled doughnuts to keep their bellies warm on the cold winter night.
A crowd favorite was the Great Chocolate Gelt Drop. Ventnor City firefighter Matt Spiers dropped chocolate coins, or gelt in Yiddish, from the firetruck’s extensive ladder. Dreidels, a beloved Hanukkah tradition, were attached to parachutes that also floated through the night sky for children to collect.
“My favorite part – and I guess I’m too old to join them – is the tossing of the gelt,” Landgraf said. “Big kids like chocolate too.”
“Save one for the mayor,” Rabbi Rapoport quickly added.
The Fire Department added to the joy of the night. After all, it was only fitting that the Fire Department was in attendance for the Festival of Lights, amidst the flickering flames.
“Even the firemen are here supporting us throwing gelt,” said Ventnor resident Ariel Khaikin who was celebrating with her mother and siblings. “It’s just really fun that it’s a whole community event.”
Other festivities included the children’s choir singing Hanukkah songs and a children’s menorah decorating contest.
Throughout the night, attendees were booming with Jewish pride and holiday excitement.
“It is important for Jews to be out and present and together, celebrating something good,” Chabad participant Brian Adler said.
Rabbi Rapoport wanted Jewish people to feel proud as they kicked off their Hanukkah celebrations.
“We want Jewish people to feel a sense of Jewish pride in who they are and their heritage,” Rabbi Rapoport said. “We are hoping that people will walk away and feel good about being Jewish and feel joyful about celebrating the holiday.”