Editor’s Note: With its December 28 posting of a 6,000 person turnout at a Chanukah celebration in Ekaterinburg, Russia, Lubavitch.com challenged Chabad Shluchim worldwide to top that number next year.
It didn’t take a year, but merely a day, for Chabad of South Broward to up the stakes with 8,000 people who flocked to the McArthur High School Football Stadium in Hollywood, Florida, for the 26 th Annual South Florida Chasidic Chanukah Festival.
Long established as North America’s largest annual Chanukah event, “this year’s Festival surpassed all expectations,” says Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus, executive vice president of Chabad of South Broward.
The event served as Chabad’s 25th birthday celebration of Chabad of South Broward, a recognized leader in Jewish education, outreach and social services in 10 Broward cities with 11 centers and over 25 agencies.
Featured at the Festival was the king of Jewish music, Avraham Fried who entertained the audience with more than an hour of inspired music. Festival goers danced at the concert’s grand finale, and a host of city, county and state representatives, lit Florida’s largest menorah. Rabbi Tennenhaus, read aloud a Chanukah message he received from President George Bush and a guest appearance by Israel’s #1 musician Gad Elbaz added a Mediterranean flavor to the event.
Two thousand children received a real dollar of Chanukah gelt (money), Chanukah chocolates, dreidels and a children’s Chanukah magazine. The goodies were given out to the children by the young ladies of the Chaya Aydel Seminary, Florida’s only Jewish Teacher’s College.
A special feature this year was Judah Maccabee, a major Chanukah hero, played by Samson Burke, former actor, body builder and champion wrestler, who starred as Hercules in the classic movie “The Three Stooges Meets Hercules”. “Judah Maccabee” assisted the dignitaries in the lighting of the Menorah. Participating were Rabbi Abraham Korf, head Shliach (emissary) to the State of Florida, State Representative Eleanor Sobel, Broward County Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger, Hollywood Commissioners Keith Wasserstrom and Peter Bober, and Hallandale Beach Commissioner Joe Gibbons.
According to Rabbi Moshe Schwartz, administrator at Chabad of South Broward, “people from as far away as Orlando to the north and Key West to the south traveled long distances to attend this popular Chanukah Festival that has no parallel in the U.S.”
The crowd was made up, said Rabbi Tennenhaus, “of affiliated and the non-affiliated Jews who came en masse together as one people, inspired by the lights of the Menorah to add in acts of goodness and kindness.”