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Rabbi takes Hanukkah celebration to the streets


Flaming menorahs? Hip-hop Hanukkah dancers?

When it comes to glitzy holiday bashes, Hanukkah’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

“Why not?” says Rabbi Mendy Dubrowski of Chabad of South Tampa. “People like to celebrate this time of year. So we’re just taking advantage of that.”

Hanukkah, actually considered a minor holiday as Jewish celebrations go, begins Friday at sundown. The eight-day observance usually falls sometime in December, not always on the same day.

Dubrowski doesn’t let the barrage of Christmas music, mall Santas and baby Jesus scenes overshadow his party. He takes it to the street, driving around with a portable menorah strapped to the top of his Toyota Camry.

“People stop me all the time to ask about it,” he says. “It gives me a chance to share information about my own religion. You have to take advantage of this great marketing opportunity.”

And there’s no better time to spread the word, because the message of Hanukkah – also known as the Festival of Lights or Feast of Dedication — is about religious freedom.

It dates back to 165 B.C., according to the books of the Maccabees. After three years of struggle, the Jews in Judea finally defeated Antiochus, the Syrian tyrant. They celebrated in the Temple of Jerusalem, which had been desecrated, then rededicated it to God. But after they removed all the Syrian idols, they could find only one small cruse of oil to light their holy lamps.

Here’s where the miracle comes in: that small cruse burned for eight days. So Judas Maccabeaus, the Jewish leader, declared a festival to celebrate the wondrous event. That’s why Jews light a candle on the menorah, a special Hanukkah candelabra, each night of the holiday. They also exchange gifts and donate to the needy

Driving around with a roof ornament is just one way Dubrowski shares his faith. From 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, his organization will sponsor Chanukah in the Park in Hyde Park Village. On the agenda: a grand menorah lighting, kosher wine tasting and latkes (potato pancakes) for noshing.

He’s also bringing in a hip-hop dance team and a spray-paint artist for entertainment. Though there’s no Jewish connection there, the rabbi looks at it as a way to provide fun for everyone, no matter their faith.

“I might even do a little rapping myself,” he says.

On Sunday, Chabad Jewish Center of St. Petersburg will bring its “Fire on Ice” extravaganza for the sixth year to South Straub Park from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. An 8-foot menorah carved out of a huge block of ice may be the main attraction, but expect the party to heat up with a Bohemian Fire show featuring fire juggling, fire eating and fire dancing, a hands-on olive oil press, food and music.

“In ancient times our ancestors rededicated the temple in Jerusalem with the menorah,” says Rabbi Alter Korf, director of the Chabad Center. “Today, we rededicate ourselves to making this world a better and brighter place.”

On Saturday, Rabbi Uriel Rivkin will get into the spirit of things by lacing up a pair of skates and gliding out to the middle of a local ice rink to light a 6-foot flaming menorah in honor of Hanukkah.

For the fifth year, Young Israel of Tampa presents “Chanukah on Ice” at the Tampa Bay Academy in Oldsmar from 7:30 to 10 p.m. The event includes a kosher food stand, those ever-popular latkes and skating to Jewish music around the menorah.

“We should always do something to celebrate our holiday, but even more so in the Christmas season,” Rivkin says. “Jewish kids can end up feeling left out. We want them to know they have something to enjoy as well.”

According to the Jewish Outreach Institute, Hanukkah is the most celebrated American Jewish holiday, mainly because it’s a “fun, child-centered occasion.” But adults like Rivkin get a kick out of it as well.

He loves its message of hope and victory.

“Even though we’re a minority, we are allowed to celebrate our faith openly,” Rivkin says. “That is the beauty of America, and why Hanukkah is such a special time.”

Not to mention – he gets to light a giant menorah.

“It’s the one time I get to play with fire,” he says, laughing.

Michelle Bearden can be reached at (813) 259-7613.