The St. Johns Jewish community gathered for a community-wide Hanukkah celebration at the Nocatee Splash Water Park Monday, Dec. 23, the second night of the eight-day holiday.
The gathering, organized by Chabad of St. Johns County, featured a Hanukkah-themed light show as well as a glowing menorah lighting ceremony and a helicopter “gelt” drop in which thousands of chocolate Hanukkah coins, known in Yiddish as “gelt,” rained down from a helicopter hovering over the water park, along with parachuting menorahs and dreidels, taking the festivities to new heights.
Participants sang and danced to Hanukkah-themed music and also enjoyed traditional Hanukkah foods, including latkes and sufganiyot.
The distribution of gelt is a more than 2,000-year-old custom, designed to reward children for exemplary behavior as well as educate them to give charity. A more contemporary version of giving gelt evolved into chocolate coins in foil wrapping.
“We were looking for a way to bring the well-known Jewish holiday of Hanukkah to a whole new level and get the entire family involved,” said Dini Sharfstein, co-director, Chabad of St. Johns County. “The St. Johns community Hanukkah celebration at Nocatee Splash Water Park is a fun and entertaining family-oriented event where everyone can come and celebrate Hanukkah.”
The menorah lighting and Hanukkah festivities were part of the worldwide Hanukkah campaign, an annual initiative launched by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 1973. The campaign highlights and encourages the central theme of the holiday—publicizing the story of the Hanukkah miracle.
“The message of Hanukkah is the message of light; a small amount of light dispels a lot of darkness,” said Rabbi Mendel Sharfstein, co-director of Chabad of St. Johns County. “With the terrible anti-Semitic incidents in Pittsburgh, Poway and most recently in Jersey City still on our minds, we need the message of Hanukkah now more than ever. We must all add in our spreading of light by doing more good deeds and acts of kindness.”
Photos provided by Chabad of St. Johns County