Remembering to light the menorah in the city that gave birth to “Remember the Alamo” is getting easier every year. Thanks to a unique collaboration between Chabad Lubavitch and San Antonio’s synagogues, Jewish Federation and civic and business groups, the festival of Chanukah has become a citywide celebration in San Antonio.
“Chanukah On The River” a much-anticipated annual event will be staged once again this year on December 12th, the fifth day of Chanukah and will bring almost 1,000 people to the beautiful downtown riverfront area for a menorah boat ride, menorah lighting and Chanukah concert. Ten touring barges, each carrying approximately 50 people and outfitted with a large menorah, have been rented for this year’s gala and will sail up the river accompanied by music and song. The barges will then pull up to the amphitheatre on the river for the kindling of a 12 foot menorah by representatives of the synagogues and community organizations. To top off the event, a Latino-Jewish band from Argentina, the Kef Orquestra, is flying in for the occasion and will perform at a free concert.
A river really does run through it–the venue for the celebration, that is. Rabbi Chaim Block, executive director of Chabad Lubavitch of South Texas, explains that “the downtown area has been developed around the water and the Hyatt Hotel actually has the river flowing through it.” Ditto for the amphitheatre where the concert will be staged. The river runs between the stage and the seating area and the riverboats float by in front of the stage during a performance, giving the entire show a surreal look.
San Antonio’s unique floating transportation system ferries tourists around the downtown area and is the inspiration for “Chanukah on the River.” Rabbi Block and Rabbi Yossi Marrus, Chabad’s program director, conceived the idea of putting a menorah on a barge and filling it with children and parents from Chabad’s Hebrew school, for what they hoped would be a unique experience.
It was, and the children talked about it all year long. “Going downriver with the menorah was an unusual opportunity and the chance for Jewish children to celebrate their holiday downtown really struck a chord with them,” says Rabbi Block. It was so successful that the following year, synagogues and local organizations all participated. The IBC local bank offered the use of their plaza on the river, and a hot latke dinner was offered after the menorah lighting with Jewish music blaring from the loudspeakers.
Last year, Block and Marrus opted to take it up another level, by adding entertainment and taking it from the bank plaza to a city venue, the outdoor amphitheater on the river. The concert performance of Latino-Jewish singer Yehudah Glanz was co-sponsored by the city of San Antonio, largely because the singer’s Spanish flavor was in keeping with the multicultualrism of the city. Other business and corporate sponsors include the HEB grocery stores, the International Bank of Commerce , the San Antonio Express News, the Jewish Federation of San Antonio and the Holzman Family Foundation.
“This will be the second time that we are partnering with Chabad Lubavitch to put together a community event that is religious and also ecumenical for all communities” said Ramiro Cavazos, Director, Economic Development Department of the City of San Antonio. “Rabbi Block and I like to use the term mishpocho to exemplify how we feel about one another. We feel we are doing this from the heart and I hope we will continue to build these ethnic and communal bonds.”
Mark Freedman, the executive director of the Federation, says this project has attracted great attention both in the Jewish community and in the community at large. “In a very respectful way, we are able to share the miracle and meaning of Chanukah with the broader community of San Antonio which overwhelmingly is not Jewish. In past years, Federation has been a co sponsor of the event, but this year we have also included our agencies, the Community Relations Council and the San Antonio Association for Jewish Education as co sponsors because we recognize the importance of this event for both community and education.”