The Chabad Jewish Community Center of Riverside's annual Hanukkah festival will be held Monday, but with a drive-in theme to adhere to coronavirus public health regulations.
"There are no challenges, only opportunities," Rabbi Shmuel Fuss said regarding this year's switch. "Isn't that the very message of Hanukkah? Overcoming darkness and triumphing over challenges."
The 2-hour fest is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday -- the fifth night of Hanukkah -- in the main parking lot of Riverside City College, 4800 Magnolia Ave.
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As in previous years, the celebration will feature a "Grand Menorah Lighting," during which a city official or other invited guest will light the candles of a gold-colored menorah that stands over 8-feet high.
A Hasidic band will play a variety of music, and treats will be available to eat. However, only a small gathering, led by the rabbi, will be standing outside near the menorah. All other participants will be asked to remain in their cars, facing the core celebrants, as part of social distancing requirements.
"We made a firm resolve … that we would do everything that we could to make this year's Hanukkah even more special than ever," Fuss said.
This will be the 16th annual fest. In previous years, some 2,000 people have gathered in front of the Riverside Historic Courthouse to celebrate the event, with music, dancing, dining, comical gags and other entertainment.
Last December's celebration was nearly canceled because of an intense rainstorm, but at the last minute, Fuss and co-organizers managed to find a tent with capacity for over 500 people, and the event went forward under the canopy.
One of the festival's principal supporters, criminal defense attorney Virginia Blumenthal, helped raise over $40,000 for this year's celebration at the college. She dedicated her share of contributions in memory of her close friend, veteran Southern California broadcaster Mary Parks, who spent years at NBC4, working as the station's Inland Empire bureau chief.
Parks, who later served as a public information officer for the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, as well as the Department of Public Social Services, died on Nov. 25 following a yearlong battle with brain cancer.
Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabees' victory over a larger Syrian army in 165 B.C. Once the Jews defeated the Hellenist forces at the end of a three-year rebellion, the temple in Jerusalem, which the occupiers had dedicated to the worship of Zeus, was re-dedicated in God's honor by Judah Maccabee, who led the insurgency.
According to the story of Hanukkah, Maccabee and his soldiers wanted to light the temple's ceremonial lamp with ritually pure olive oil as part of their re-dedication but found only enough oil to burn for one day. The oil, however, burned for eight days in what was embraced as a miracle.
Hanukkah, which means "dedication" in Hebrew, is observed around the world by lighting candles at sundown for eight nights. The reason for the lights is so passers-by should see them and be reminded of the holiday's miracle.
More information about the festival is available at www.ChanukahFestival.org.