At a Covid-safe Chanukah celebration, Rabbi Pesach and Chana Burston of Chabad of Orange County honored several frontline workers “for being pillars of light during the darkness of the pandemic.”
The joy of getting together safely during the pandemic was palpable at Chabad’s “Chanukah Drive-In Experience,” hosted by shluchim Rabbi Pesach and Chana Burston in the parking lot of the Chabad Center in Chester, NY. The community was able to enjoy, from the safety of their own vehicles, a night filled with light, music and food.
The festive event began with a community menorah lighting of a six-foot menorah. The menorah lighting ceremony honored local leaders and front-line workers “who are pillars of light during the darkness of the pandemic,” explained Chana Burston.
“I think we can all use a little bit of light right now!” Rabbi Pesach said when inviting the large crowd to come together with social distancing to light the menorah. The “human candles” were: Leader – County Executive Steve Neuhaus. Doctor – Jennifer Reich of Highland Mills. Paramedic/First Responders – Lee and Michelle Sentell of Monroe. Nurse – Serach Callan of Goshen. Police – Officer Michael Cohn of Warwick. Teacher – Alan Friedman of Pine Bush. Pastoral Care – Gabe Morrow and Father Simon of Garnet Health Medical Center in Middletown. Chabad Cares – Ira Kanis of Monroe and Siggy Toback of Middletown. CTeen/Youth leader – Amir Mosker of Monroe.
Al Muhlrad of Goshen lit the County Executive’s candle, known as the “Shamash,” the candle that serves the other 8 candles. Mr. Neuhaus joked that he is a “human shamash,” a leader serving the community. Mr. Muhlrad also recited the memorial Kaddish prayer in memory of all those lost during the pandemic. Chabad president Gil Goetz handed each of the honorees a certificate of appreciation, and Chana Burston presented them with a gift of a “Happy Chanukah” cashmere scarf “for being a source of warmth and light during the darkness of this pandemic.”
The Menorah’s Message
“We all learned how contagious a virus can be,” exclaimed Rabbi Pesach just before the candles were lit from the shamash. “But you know what else is also contagious?” he asked the crowd. “Light!” everyone said. “Watch how much light can spread from just one candle!” As each of the 8 candles were lit from the single shamash, the rabbi said, “Let’s be spreaders of light and good, not germs.
“The story of Chanukah may have happened more than 2000 years ago, but the menorah’s message is relevant, especially today: Darkness comes and goes, but the menorah is a reminder that light will always shine. The pandemic will end just like the Syrian Greeks’ oppression did. But the menorah will always shine. Be like a menorah: Be a source of light, joy, friendship, care and hope to a family member or friend in need. Light up the home – that’s where the real heart of Jewish observance is! But also light up the street – be a source of light and warmth to those around you.”
In his remarks, County Executive Neuhaus expressed his gratitude for all the messages of support he received from the congregation during the pandemic. “The virus has taught us how important we are to each other,” he said. “This light brings hope. It’s been tough on us all. But this is the beginning of the end of this. We have to continue to take care of each other.”
The menorah brachos were led by 18-year-old Duvy Burston on his guitar. As Duvy performed Chanukah songs, as well as some of his original music, dreidel mascots delivered Chanukah goodies and light-up souvenirs to each vehicle.
Hot latkes, hot cocoa, doughnuts, dreidels and chocolate coins, “Happy Chanukah” glow sticks, light-up menorah necklaces and more were among the treats delivered. The evening was topped off with a fire show by Ethereal Fire Entertainment.
Serach Callan of Goshen, who was one of the honorees as a nurse, later shared that this was “one of the most beautiful recognitions I’ve ever received. Thank you, Chana and Rabbi Pesach, for all you do and for yet another beautiful night. Very much appreciated.”
In addition to the Drive-In Chanukah event, Chabad also hosted a “Chanukah Light Live” event on Zoom, a toy-drive for children impacted by illness, among other Chanukah events and resources.
Throughout the pandemic, Chabad of Orange County has been on the front lines of providing social, humanitarian and spiritual support to the community. The Covid-safe menorah lighting is the latest of many innovative programs created in response to these unique times by Chabad of Orange County, including Chabad Cares Food Packages, Holiday-at-Home Kits, Outdoor High Holiday Services and more.
Chabad of Orange County offers Jewish education, outreach and social service programming for families and individuals of all ages, backgrounds and affiliations. For more information, contact Rabbi Pesach and Chana Burston, directors, at 845-782-2770, rabbi@ChabadOrange.com or visit www.ChabadOrange.com