McALLEN — In the heart of Archer Park, the stage was set Monday for Jewish pop star Yoni Z to perform later that evening, with silver bleachers lining the front and tables full of golden-crisped latkes — a traditional Hanukkah dish — available at the side of the stage. Attendees were free to take as many as they’d like.
These were among the sights Monday night at Chabad RGV’s annual Hanukkah event, the Chanukah Concert and Festival.
The event also included moon jumps set up for the children, who cheered each other on as they tried the rock-climbing obstacle.
“The guy pulled me (up),” Daniel Rapoport, 6, said of the person supervising the obstacle, who helped the kids reached the top of the moon jump.
His mother Inga and younger brother Aleksander rooted for Daniel.
“This is the second year for us,” Inga said of the event, which also provides the local community an opportunity to learn about the Jewish holidays. “We’ve been in McAllen for three years, so this is the second year for us. We love it.”
“I like to climb,” Daniel added. “I like to do everything.”
Daniel shifted his attention to the other kid attempting to climb to the top of the obstacle. He joined the other children as they cheered them on.
This is the eighth year Chabad RGV held its annual festival, with each year growing in attendance and interest, according to Rabbi Asher Hecht.
“It started off with Mayor (Richard) Cortez, when he was the mayor. We approached him with the idea that part of the city’s holiday decor should include a menorah,” Hecht said. “He embraced the idea fondly.”
Richard Cortez, who now serves as Hidalgo County judge, petitioned for the inclusion of a menorah, to which engineers built.
“This is a joint presentation by us and the city. They open the park, they bring the bleachers, they bring out the menorah, the mayor comes and then we bring the entertainment, the food, and we open it to the public” Hecht said. “The real message of Hanukkah is the message of light… shedding light in a dark world.
“This is what this holiday is about. We all have a light inside of us. We all have some beauty, and the idea is that we need to share it ’cause we need to bring more light to the world.”
It’s a universal message, Hecht added, as he explained how the Hanukkah event is free to everyone, not just the Jewish community.
Aside from the festivities, the event also consisted of a lighting of a menorah ceremony. The shamash, the middle candle of the menorah that kindle the others, was lit by McAllen Mayor Jim Darling on Monday. Hecht explained the shamash means the igniter, and as the holiday continues, another candle is lit.
“The idea is to increase in light. In life, we always want to increase,” Hecht said. “At the eighth day all the candles are lit, so we increase the light.”
“It’s very heartwarming for me to be here,” Darling said. “Our Jewish community is one of great civic leaders. On behalf of the city, we really appreciate not only what you do, especially today, but every day in our city.”
After the lighting ceremony, Hecht introduced Yoni Z to continue the Hanukkah celebration. Families clapped in unison with Yoni Z’s catchy tunes as others danced.
The lit menorah, standing near the stage, burned bright.