Chanukah on Ice NYC will not only resoundingly announce the holiday when the event happens at Wollman Rink in Central Park next week but will literally burn a candle for the darkness of the coronavirus pandemic.
As described by the event’s lead coordinator, Sarah Alevsky, Chanukah on Ice will also brim with joy. Alevsky, who teaches and runs several programs at Chabad of the Upper West Side, has been running the event with her husband since 2008 and speaks with gratitude that the occasion is resuming this year after last year’s cancellation due to the pandemic.
“I think people are really happy to come back in person,” she says by phone from her Upper West Side home. “People really missed it last year. We had a menorah lighting in Central Park and drew a couple hundred people, around four-hundred people, and that was very sweet, but it wasn’t Chanukah on Ice and people are so excited that it’s happening again. This is something that people are really looking forward to ... to being together again.”
Chanukah was already a redemptive holiday for the Jewish people before the pandemic. A commemoration of the saving of Jerusalem and the reemergence of the Second Temple after the violent reign of King Antiochus in 2nd Century BCE, the holiday attains particular significance with the customary lighting of the menorah (a word whose Semitic root means “to shine”).
A year and nearly nine months into the pandemic, Chanukah this year crystallizes its theme of triumphing over tragedy, of light overcoming dark.
“One of the basic ideas of Chanukah is publicizing the miracle [of the Jewish people surviving King Antiochus’s rule] but also taking the spiritual message of the lights of Chanukah and sharing that with the rest of the world,” Alevsky says.
She continues that another message of Chanukah is “good triumphing over evil” and that the holiday is “about people who have conviction, believe in their truth and they stand up to oppression and to those who are trying to stop them from living the way want to live, which is basically a freedom from religious oppression. Those are things that, number one, are of value all of the time and are eternal and universal values, but there are messages of Chanukah that can be shared with the rest of the world.”
“Sharing the Message”
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the widely beloved most recent leader of the Hasidic movement and a man who some Jews believe was the long-awaited Messiah, “really believed,” as Alevsky says, “that you should light menorahs in public places so that you are sharing the message.”
The idea, Alevsky elaborates, is “that a little bit of light can chase away a lot of darkness, that all you need to do is a little bit of good and it can dispel a lot of evil, that if we concentrate and focus on doing good, it will automatically push away whatever it is that is maybe stopping us from sharing the light.”
A lot of planning goes into Chanukah on Ice, which is Chabad of the Upper West Side’s biggest event. Fresh kosher food — including around 1400 hot dogs, hot soup and countless jelly donuts — is prepared and, most memorable, is the appearance in the night of the giant menorah.
Hand-carved by upstate New York artist Bill Bywater, the menorah is made of ice and stands about six feet tall. The menorah truly becomes the focus of attention when, about halfway through the festivities and after thousands of individuals skate around the rink, the singing of customary songs and the lighting by a notable Jewish person occurs. In past years, David Mazouz from the cult Batman show, “Gotham,” performed the rite but it will be another individual this year.
Also at the event will be its mascot: a big blue dreidel, which is a miniature toy that children spin during Chanukah and which has come to symbolize the joyous nature of the holiday.
Like most Jewish holidays, whether it be Passover or the weekly Sabbath, Chanukah is of deep significance. Its story of resilience through catastrophe, of survival, resonates and is one that will come into full view at Chanukah on Ice next week.
“We’re excited that we’re able to do this again,” Alevsky says. “It’s very special. I have a woman who just called me the other day and she wanted to come and, for various reasons, she cannot come and she just said, ‘I was so excited when I heard that you were doing it again.’ And she’s a woman who lives in Brooklyn, and she said, ‘There’s something about being at Chanukah on Ice that’s indescribable.’”
Chanukah on Ice NYC takes place on Monday, November 29th, from 6-9pm at Central Park’s Wollman Rink, which is located near the 59th or Central Park South entrances. For more information and to reserve tickets, please visit chanukahonicenyc.com.
“I think people are really happy to come back in person. People really missed it last year. We had a menorah lighting in Central Park ... and that was very sweet, but it wasn’t Chanukah on Ice.” Sarah Alevsky, lead coordinator of Chanukah on Ice