South florida sizzles and sparkles during Chanukah.
By Jill Meisels and Reuvain Arazi
With its incredible natural beauty and warm climate, South Florida is always a choice destination for myriad tourists from around the world. Miles of white sandy beaches and a beautiful tropical landscape of palm trees adorn the sparkling blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Boating, water activities, pristine golf courses and an assortment of family attractions catch the attention of young and old seeking the ideal vacation.
Jewish travelers as well find South Florida a most convenient and ever popular get-away, thanks to its wide array of kosher stores and restaurants. Especially during the winter season and Festival of Chanukah in particular (beginning December 1 this year), the Sunshine State turns into a spiritual oasis and kosher paradise.
Each night of Chanukah, large public Menorah lightings and all sorts of holiday ceremonies take place throughout the southeast region for local residents and visitors to enjoy. In town squares and city parks, at sporting arenas and along well-traveled highways, Menorah lights and Chanukah celebrations are a familiar sight. Celebrities and public officials usually vie for the honor of kindling the lights.
Chabad, with nearly 100 South Florida centers and unquestionably on the cutting edge and considered pioneers of Jewish outreach and public Chanukah events, will host most of the large celebrations. Though, numerous events are being organized by the many other local synagogues and Jewish organizations as well. Two events, however, certainly stand out as favorites with the masses and should not be missed.
On the first night of Chanukah—Wednesday, December 1—Jewish Heritage Night will take place with the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena in Miami, and on the last night of Chanukah—Wednesday, December 8—The Annual South Florida Chassidic Chanukah Festival will be held at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale. As Rabbi Pinny Andrusier of Chabad of Southwest Broward says, “We make sure to start the holiday and end it with a big bang and lots of sparkle. We were approached last year by the Miami Heat to partner in a Jewish Heritage and elected to host it on Chanukah. The success was incredible. More than 5,000 tickets were sold.”
This year, Miami Heat is the hottest buzz in Florida. With the addition of basketball’s premier all stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh playing alongside local legend Dwyane Wade, the team has become favored to win the championship, and every game is sure to be completely sold out.
Highlighting the celebration once again at American Airlines Arena will be an electrifying half time show on the East Plaza with a grand menorah lighting ceremony featuring Miami Heat’s all-time great center and ambassador, Alonzo Mourning, plus other basketball stars and special guests. Dr Laz & the Cure will perform in concert; each fan will receive a Jewish Heritage t-shirt and be allowed on the court following the game to shoot a free throw.
On the last night of Chanukah, the 31st Annual South Florida Chassidic Chanukah Festival will take place starring child prodigy Ethan Bortnick, Jewish music’s rising superstar Benny Friedman and the dazzling performance of the twin Hassidic Acrobats from France. The festival, open to the public and free of charge, attracts more than 10,000 people each year. Bortnick, 9, has appeared on every major television network and in concerts around the world. He plays the piano brilliantly, has memorized some 300 songs, has composed his very own music, and has a stage presence that is nothing short of remarkable.
The Festival takes place at Gulfstream Park, off US1 and Hallandale Beach Blvd. The event is annually produced and directed by Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus of Chabad of South Broward and will be preceded by a 100-Car Menorah parade initiating on Miami Beach. On Monday evening of Chanukah, a 100-car parade will set out from Boca Raton and conclude with a large concert.
From Miami Beach to Fort Lauderdale and from the Florida Keys to Boca Raton, streets will be decorated with giant Menorahs. Some of the displayed eight-branched candelabras, ranging from 6 to over 20 feet tall, are made of traditional metals while others are more creative. For instance, a large Menorah on South Beach is assembled out of seashells. Others are made from giant inflated balloons, small pieces of Lego and the one being built in Parkland will be the tastiest of all, made entirely of chocolate.
On Sunday, December 5th, amongst many Chanukah celebrations taking place, Chabad of Parkland is boasting the World’s Largest Chocolate Menorah. Youngsters (and the young at heart) can participate in the construction of the Menorah, and when it’s all done, special lanterns will be inserted and the Menorah will be kindled. Open to the public with free admission, the event will include bounce-houses and rides for the children as well as arts and crafts, face painting arcades and a magic show.
From Miami Beach to Fort Lauderdale and from the Florida Keys to Boca Raton, streets will be decorated with giant Menorahs.
All the tasty traditional staples of Chanukah, such as delicious jelly doughnuts and sizzling potato latkes, and a complete selection of kosher catering, deli and groceries are also readily available at the many Glatt kosher restaurants and stores throughout the state, including Hollywood, Cooper City, Aventura, Miami Beach, Delray Beach and even at the local sporting events. American Airlines Arena, decked with Chanukah decor and brightly colored menorahs, also featured a food court where for the very first time, Glatt Kosher food was made available at the sporting venue. Last year’s Jewish Heritage Night was recognized by the NBA for being the largest single group to hold an event. “I attend most games,” said season ticket holder Annette Daiagi of Hallandale. To see the arena packed with Jewish Heritage fans waving Happy Chanukah signs was remarkable. I really am filled with Jewish pride. The rabbis did a terrific job organizing this.”
Throughout the game, arena DJ Irie pumped up the crowd playing Jewish & Chanukah tunes like Am Yisroel Chai. Everyone jumped to their feet cheering for Burnie the mascot and his team, who tossed over 400 Jewish Heritage t-shirts into the exuberant crowd. Colorful Chanukah greetings constantly scrolled across the giant Heat scoreboard along with scenes of Judah Maccabe in costume dancing and celebrating with Jewish Heritage Fans.
At the halftime menorah lighting ceremony, seven foot tall Alonzo Mourning and the giant menorah both towered over everyone else on stage. Rabbi Abraham Korf, Chabad of Florida’s Regional Director, marveled at Alonzo’s height and compared basketball and Chanukah. “Both holidays are about giants,” Korf explains. “Basketball is filled with physical giants; Chanukah is all about spiritual giants.
The eight-day Festival of Lights encourages people of all faiths to become spiritual giants by heeding the call of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, to add in random acts of goodness and kindness, and thereby usher in a world that is illuminated with peace, prosperity, and goodwill amongst all people.”
In his Chanukah message to the overflowing crowd, Rabbi Pinny offered, “May the warmth and “Heat” of the Chanukah candles lead us to the ultimate Redemption of true and everlasting peace throughout the entire world with Moshiach Now and the rekindling of the Menorah in the Holy Temple.” The thousands of exhilarated men, women and children in attendance, gave a large applause and cheered loudly in total agreement.