The annual “Fire on Ice” Hanukkah event of the Chabad House of Greater Hartford returns to Blue Back Square for its 10th year, on Sunday.
Rabbi Shaya Gopin, who organizes the event for the Chabad House, said it has become a part of the community fabric.
“Locally, in our very warm town, this has become a location for Connecticut’s largest Hanukkah celebration,” Gopin said. “Even though it’s winter, and it may be cold, it attracts hundreds of people each year. It keeps growing. There’s a sense of pride.”
On a larger scale, the celebration is about bringing lightness to darkness, Gopin said.
“It’s part of menorah lightings in public places all across the world,” Gopin said. “It brings the message of the holiday, which is lighting the outside. It’s dark, it’s winter, and we light the menorah, showing the message. The theme of the holiday is that a little bit of light spells the darkness.”
But what makes this one special, to Gopin, is the community aspect.
“What’s unique about West Hartford is that we’re a warm town, with a fun-loving environment,” he said. “The sentiment comes from all segments, both Jewish and non-Jewish people, who are all open and come to enjoy and see and learn the traditions. The non-Jewish community has shared how they have enjoyed learning in an accessible and open environment.”
The event has grown in its 10 years, Gopin said. The first one drew a smaller crowd on a snowy day, and Gopin remembers being worried about attendance. But that fear has eased.
“It’s grown by the hundreds each year in a short amount of time,” Gopin said. “The first year, it was snowy and we were worried because it was our first time. We were worried people wouldn’t show up. But it was mobbed. Eventually, it grew to where we had to block off the street and really expand the space for the celebration. It shows this is something that fits well with the environment of our town.”
This year, the celebration will expand, with the addition of a concert by the Chicago-based Rogers Park Band.
“This year, we wanted to expand it bigger and better,” Gopin said. “They hope to take that energy that’s at the peak of the program and take it further.”
Many of the event’s popular activities will return for 2017, including the gelt drop, where members of the West Hartford Fire Department drop chocolate coins to guests below. There will also be a gelt-making factory inside the heated tents, along with other activities for children.
The highlight of the event, when the ice menorah is lit, is Gopin’s favorite part.
“The touching part is the feeling of energy when everyone is focused on that moment when the ice candles are lit,” he said. “There’s a sense of awe from the hundreds of participants watching and feeling the message of the flames.”
Gopin also hopes people will take advantage of their free Hanukkah kits to continue celebrating the holiday at home.
“We always encourage people and we distribute free Hanukkah kits, because we’d like people to bring the tradition home,” he said. “We want to spread the light.”