Families in Queens, New York, once again have something to look forward as the annual Queens Chanukah Experience opens for four days of interactive, thematic fun beginning Sunday, Dec. 2.
“Our greatest testimonial is that people keep coming back,” says Chanie Zalmanov of Chabad of Eastern Queens. She and her husband, Rabbi Yerachmiel, organize the Experience, now in its eighth year. They describe it as a “museum-like experience” with interactive exhibits and activities that allow children to engage with the holiday’s history and learn about its observance.
In the game section, several oversized multiplayer games will get children racing to bring olive oil to the temple, or figure out the order of the menorah lighting. Children can also write a note and place it in the ceiling-high Kotel [Western Wall] mock-up. A 3D, ten-foot-tall dreidel is the centerpiece of this year’s Chanukah playland.
Budding chefs will get to bake and decorate their own doughnuts and peel, grate, and mix the ingredients for latkes. Many Chanukah craft activities will be available in the arts and craft section, and the youngest participants will enjoy a choice of Chanukah stories in the book nook and produce their own Chanukah puppet shows at the well-stocked, child-sized puppet theater.
Every hour, children will be invited to watch an olive press demonstration or take part in a lively game show competition. In teams, they’ll compete to solve Chanukah riddles and memory puzzles.
Each year, the Zalmanovs add new exhibits, and this year, their expanded collection needs more space than their previous location offered. The Experience, which is open to the public on Sunday and hosts school tours during the week, will be hosted by Temple Torah and Rabbi Eli and Rivky Shifrin of Chabad of Little Neck, who look forward to welcoming the influx of children to their community. “Our demographic is more elderly,” Rivky says. In past years, the Shifrins have thrown a Chanukah party tailored to both the older members of the community and the younger families. This year, the children and families are invited to the Chanukah Experience, and seniors will have their own party. “It gives us an opportunity to celebrate the children because they are our Jewish future while honoring our elders without whom we wouldn’t be.”
Chanie is expecting at least 1,000 students from Jewish day schools all over Queens and another 500 when the Experience is open to the public on Sunday. “Kids from all levels of Jewish affiliation come, and it is equally difficult for all their parents to tear them away when it is time to leave.”
The Queens Chanukah Experience is open to the public on December 2, 11:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. For more information email TheChanukahExperienceEQ@gmail.com.