The area’s largest Chanukah celebration has been reinvented as a ‘drive-in’ event for 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Ronni Newton
Fire On Ice, the annual Chanukah celebration in West Hartford sponsored by Chabad of Greater Hartford, will return in 2020 to bring much-needed light and hope associated with the holiday to the community, but this year’s celebration has been modified in order to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.
Chanukah, the eight-day celebration of the victory more than 2,100 years ago of the Jewish people over Greek forces that had occupied Jerusalem – also known as the Festival of Lights – begins this year at sundown on Thursday, Dec. 10, and lasts until Dec. 18. As has been the tradition for the past 12 years, a celebration will be held in West Hartford on the first Sunday of the holiday, which this year is Dec. 13.
While the event will still evoke plenty of joy this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic it can’t involve a mob of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder, singing and dancing together as they celebrate the holiday.
The ice menorah will remain a key element of the event, however, and will be carved live from a raw block of ice on the patio of West Hartford Town Hall, as those attending observe from their vehicles.
“The menorah serves as a symbol of light and hope for us today amidst the darkness of the pandemic, as it did for generations before us,” said Rabbi Shaya Gopin of West Hartford, organizer of the event. “The flames of the menorah shine out into the night, reminding us that even when confronted with much darkness, a tiny light can dispel it all. Another act of goodness and kindness, another act of light, can make all the difference.”
The event has moved several hundred yards southwest, from the Blue Back Square courtyard to the parking lot of West Hartford Town Hall to allow fo the drive-in format.
As vehicles arrive at the Town Hall parking lot, each car will be provided with a Chanukah kit that contains a Menorah, games, crafts, Chanukah cookies, a Chanukah puzzle, chocolate gelt, and more.
According to town officials, the parking lot area where the celebration will be held can accommodate 200 vehicles, and West Hartford Police will be on hand to maintain the traffic flow.
Starbucks will provide coffee and doughnuts from Crown Market will also be available, but other than to obtain food and drink, participants are required to remain in their vehicles throughout the event.
There will be live music, courtesy of American Chassidic superstar, Benny Friedman, who will perform on stage in front of Town Hall.
A giant LED wall will be situated in front of Town Hall, which will enable everyone to see and “be part of” the happenings will maintaining COVID-19 protocols, Gopin said. The audio portion of the event will be transmitted to vehicle radios, he said.
Gopin added that while the scope of the celebration will be different due to the coronavirus pandemic, “the lights will shine forth as brightly as ever” – and will provide a critical message of hope in a difficult time.
Fire On Ice will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 13. Admission is free, but advance registration is suggested at www.ChabadHartford.com/fire.
Chabad of Greater Hartford also plans to distribute menorahs and candles to those who will be celebrating at home this year, to share the light with those who may not otherwise experience it.
“Indeed, the coronavirus has hit our area with many tragic victims of the pandemic, not only those infected but also those who have suffered economic and emotional devastation,” Chabad said a news release.
“Throughout the pandemic, Chabad House of Greater Hartford has been on the front lines of providing social, humanitarian and spiritual support to the local community. The COVID-safe celebration and menorah lighting is the latest of many innovative programs created in response to these unique times by Chabad House of Greater Hartford, including Passover Matza Kits, Rosh Hashana Shofar Outdoors throughout the area, Shabbat-in-a-box deliveries, and Holiday DIY Kits.”
Chabad’s outdoor menorah lighting tradition and awareness campaign was launched by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson in 1973, and has revitalized widespread and mainstream observance of the Festival of Lights, “returning what some have mistakenly dismissed as a minor holiday to its roots as a public proclamation of the ultimate triumph of freedom over oppression,” Chabad stated.
“This year has seen illness, death, quarantine, closures and business collapses, all amidst an overwhelming sense of sheer confusion and despair. In light of this heightened sense of urgency to share the message, spirit and hope of Hanukkah, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement worldwide is preparing the largest Hanukkah awareness campaign in history,” a global campaign designed to reach 8 million Jews in more than 100 countries. Plans are for Chabad to erect roughly 15,000 large menorahs in public locations throughout the world – including in front of the White House, the Eiffel Tower, and the Kremlin.
Chabad will also organize parades expected to include more than 6,500 vehicles topped with menorahs, carrying the message of “hope and joy” to cities and residential neighborhoods. This year, Chabad plans to distribute approximately 32 million Chanukah candles, more than 700,000 menorah kids, 350,000 at-home kits, and 2.5 million holiday guides that have been published in 17 different languages.
For more information about Chabad’s events in Connecticut and worldwide, visit the website.
For more information about Hanukkah and a local schedule of events visit www.ChabadHartford.com/Hanukkah .
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