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First Night of Hanukkah smash hit for Park Slope Chabad

Giant Menorah’s Demotion from ‘World’s Largest’ to ‘Largest’ Fails to Dampen Holiday Revelers

December 27, 2016 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: Yitchzie, Shmuli, Zevi, Shainy and Mordy Evers with sponsor Simply Beverage’s orange juice. Eagle photo by Andy Katz
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It’s the night before Christmas in Grand Army Plaza. Music fills the clear, chilly air: “Hold each other tight. Dance, dance, dance!” sings the band in hard, driving rhythms; and the human dreidels are doing just that, dancing with great leaps, arms waving ecstatically.

It is also the first night of Hanukkah, the 25th day of Kislev, 5776 in the Hebrew calendar. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s arrival to help light the 32-foot-high menorah is still an hour away, but already Grand Army Plaza is packed with celebrants, most of them families with children, and the band, Moshav, has just taken the stage.

In other places, giant menorahs are also being lighted to commemorate the Maccabees retaking of the Temple in Jerusalem and the miracle of a single day’s worth of oil lasting eight whole days. But here, just outside Prospect Park, this menorah, designed by Israeli artist Yaavoc Agam, commands particular jubilation as “ground zero” of Chabad’s mission to fulfill Grand Rebbe Schneerson’s campaign to bring Hanukkah observance to Jews all over the world.

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One change celebrants may not notice right away is the menorah’s billing, which for three decades cited it as “the world’s largest,” a claim it may no longer make.  A recent rabbinic ruling gave precedence to Rabbi Shmuel Butman’s similarly designed Manhattan menorah because it had adopted the “world’s largest” title a decade prior to Rabbi Rav Hecht’s. Never mind that Rav Hecht’s Shamash, or central helper candle, is one foot higher than its Manhattan counterpart.

“We had about 1,800 people on hand,” Hecht said later. “That’s our largest turn out yet.”

Beneath a small tent, Rabbi Menashe Wolf, associate director of Chabad Park Slope, passes out small menorahs and asks if people are on Chabad’s mailing list. “We’ve been doing this about 28 years now,” Wolf tells one woman.

Back on stage, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams addresses the audience: “Brooklyn is the Jerusalem of the U.S.!” he declares to cheers and applause. “Despite all of the swastikas, despite all of the hate, your light continues to shine!”

After ascending the menorah compliments of a Con Ed cherry picker, de Blasio echoes the borough president’s sentiment: “We celebrate tonight freedom over tyranny, and that means unity over prejudice and division!”

Together with Hecht, the mayor uses a blowtorch to light the Shamash. Also on hand, and riding in an adjacent bucket, is mayoral son Dante de Blasio. Hecht reminds him: “Don’t forget you father owes you Hanukkah gelt after he lights the first candle.”

After the mayor and Dante descend they partake of potato latkes, a traditional Hanukkah staple, which Dante, not quite the seasoned politician his father is, consumes with a marked lack of enthusiasm.

Because the 25th day of Kislev fell on a Saturday this year, the lighting ran unusually late. It was almost 9 p.m. when Hecht offered Moshav a well-deserved break as Hecht took the stage with his son, Rabbi Mendy Hecht of Prospect Heights, to light a braided Havdalah candle to mark the end of the Sabbath day.  After prayers, the candle was doused with orange juice from a bottle of Simply Orange, one of the event’s sponsors

Other sponsors included the Brooklyn Nets and S&J Sheet Metal of Brooklyn & The Bronx.

“It runs $35,000 to $40,000 to put on the event,” Hecht explained afterward. “We have sponsors, yes, but Chabad of Park Slope has to make up the short fall, so we can always use more help.”

With help from the Israeli band Moshav and participants from as far away as Melbourne, Australia, Chabad of Park Slope’s first night of Hanukkah was a raucous, joyous success.

Asked by a celebrant if he foresaw Chabad putting on Hanukkah indefinitely, Rabbi Wolf laughed: “Oh, yes. We’ll be doing this forever!”


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