Sitting in your car bumper to bumper on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway isn’t always a gridlocked traffic jam. Sometimes it can be a parade.
On Monday night, an estimated 700-plus people jammed out to Chanukah tunes while waiting to embark on an almost 3-mile car menorah parade — starting at the Parkway near 22nd St. and ending at Independence National Historical Park — led by Lubavitch of Greater Philadelphia.
Billed as the world’s largest car menorah parade, this event was the largest yet, according to Lois Yampolsky, administrative assistant at Lubavitch of Greater Philadelphia and coordinator of the parade. She estimated more than 300 cars filled the streets.
The parade ended with sufganiyot, dancing and a giant menorah lighting by Rabbi Abraham Shemtov, the regional director and lead rabbi of Lubavitch of Greater Philadelphia. In 1974, Rabbi Shemtov was the first rabbi in the world to publicly light a menorah, according to Yampolsky.
Now with the parade in its 11th year, she said she still prefers to be on the sidelines rather than in the parade itself. Yampolsky waited on Market Street for the cars to drive by, each with four glowing bulbs on top. It’s a strong statement, she said, and gives her goosebumps every time.
“It’s so powerful to see all of those cars with lit menorahs — I can’t even describe it,” she said.
That image sends a message, she said: “You can try to get rid of us, but you can’t — we’re stronger than ever.”
The parade is usually held on a Saturday evening, she noted, but with Christmas taking up the weekend, the parade landed on a Monday, the third night of Chanukah.
However, due to the holidays, she said many locals and tourists were walking around and noticed the parade.
“I think some people that weren’t aware were able to join in,” she added.
Sara and Jamie Goldfuss were in one of the first cars to line up in the center lane of the Parkway with their children, Izzy, 6, Yaffa, 3, and Toby, 1. The only thing missing was the main component of the parade: a car menorah.
The Goldfusses rent their car menorah each year — it easily plugs right into the car charger — and are able to keep it for the rest of the holiday, which is a fun bonus for their children.
“Usually you’re driving and you forget that it’s there because you’re in the car, but people wave at you a lot so it’s always fun,” Sara Goldfuss said. (Pro tip: Avoid parking garages when you have a menorah on your roof.)
This was their ninth year participating.
“Our fourth date was at the parade,” Sara Goldfuss added, “and now nine years later, here we are.”
They said they are glad to be able to show their kids that they can proudly celebrate Chanukah in a city that’s very diverse.
“It allows the whole city to see the Jewish community celebrating, that it’s a happy holiday,” she said. “We want people to see that it’s joyous and kind of publicize the idea of brightening up the community.”
In typical Jewish fashion, the event started an hour late, but the energy was high from the get-go. Kids and adults were running and dancing through the street before the parade began, weaving in and out of the parked cars.
Young brothers Ephraim and Michel, along with their friend Dovi, jumped on top of their minivan to get a better view of the line of cars behind them, which extended from the Rodin Museum to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
As the parade commenced, a passerby crossing the Parkway exclaimed, “We should get a menorah next year for our car!”
Bracha Bettoun waited in the lineup for her two children to meet her after school — not exactly the typical school bus route. This was her 15th year participating in the Chanukah celebration and candlelighting — longer than the parade itself.
“As you’re driving here and you’re the lone car on the highway with this weird thing on your roof, you feel like, ‘All right, whatever.’ But then you feel like you come together as part of a whole,” she said.
Bettoun said everyone on the street — Jews and non-Jews — waved and danced as the cars drove by, which is more significant to her than the large menorah lighting at the end.
“It’s an amazing expression of Jewish pride,” she said. “Chanukah is about publicizing the miracle that happened, that God protects the Jewish people. … A menorah parade with hundreds of cars is a great way of displaying the miracle.”
Chony Milecki DJ’ed the event and led the parade in the first car with a loudspeaker system attached to the back.
He got the crowd energized with contemporary Chanukah pop remixes of the dreidel song, Matisyahu and Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song,” as well as singing some tunes live while playing the keyboard.
Milecki, originally from Australia and now based in New York, often uses the musical truck to welcome new Torahs to the community. This was his fifth time performing at this event.
“We’re trying to bring the message of Chanukah to the entire Philadelphia,” he said. “The best part is just seeing how the message of Chanukah, of bringing light, is such a universal message.
“Everybody who watches the parade and everybody we pass, Jewish or not Jewish, just get into the spirit immediately. People are smiling, people start dancing. And that’s really what we’re trying to show today.
“[Chanukah] is not just a Jewish message,” he continued. “It’s a message that we can bring light and we can bring peace to the world. All you have to do is shine a little bit of light, and that gets rid of the darkness. You don’t have to fight it with swords or war or rockets. The best way to fight darkness is light.”
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