• Governor Rick Scott, singer Avraham Fried highlight the 34th annual event
By Larry Blustein
All day Sunday, rain clouds and storms surrounded south Florida with a look that had many running for cover.
The perfect day to stay inside and watch TV or relax. Unfortunately, while Sunday may have been a day of rest, it was also the day that the 34th Annual Chanukah Festival was to be held at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach.
As the evening drew closer and the nearly 10,000 people who have made this one of the world's premier holiday events, were willing to brave the elements, and they did.
As he stood in a light mist, getting ready to get the show started, Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus made sure that everyone understood that the rain had subsided because of a mightier power than he.
"All day it rained," he said. "All day it put doubt in everyone's mind about coming tonight, but look at it now. This is just not something that happens."
This evening couldn't have been postponed. There were too many impressive performers, local and statewide dignitaries and a worldwide internet audience that had planned and looked forward to this yearly event that brings in people from all over the region.
"Best event there is," said DeeDee Miller of Boca Raton. "We have been coming here every year and it only gets better."
Miller was not alone. Reading the list of heavy hitters was certainly a reason why this festival has grown from its humble days at places like McArthur High School in Hollywood. There was Governor Rick Scott for starters. He had made his way down just to take part in a festival that had become recognized world-wide.
"On my birthday, it is such an honor to spend the holiday here with all of you," he said to an enthusiastic throng. "I am so honored to be a part of such a great event."
As Scott shook hands and posed for countless photos with those who were on hand, Sheriff Scott Israel, Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper and her husband, Harry, and Hollywood Mayor Peter Bober also came out to see fellow movers and shakers as well as eat some great food and catch world-class entertainment.
Seven-year-old Rivka Stein and her family came from Miami Beach for the first time. While she liked the music and dancing that made the evening special, it was the hamburger and cotton candy that put the biggest smile on her face.
"She is at the age where she is starting to appreciate Chanukah,: her father, Michael said. "Every kid loves hamburgers and candies more than they do the dancing and music. Hey, this is her big night and the rain didn't dampen any spirits."
As much as those in attendance loved seeing some of the local and statewide officials, it was the music and entertainment that brought them from Boynton Beach and Weston on this evening.
They came to see the ever talented Avraham Fried, King of Jewish Music, who performed a full concert of his most popular Hebrew, English and Yiddish songs.
An icon in the music industry, Fried began his career with the release of his first album "No Jew Will Be Left Behind" in 1981, featuring the song "Kel Hahodaos", written by Kol Salonica.
For the last three years, the Chanukah Festival was seen live around the world via Jewish TV @ Chabad.org. It was the most watched Live Jewish TV Show in 2010, 2011, & 2012. People from across the globe, from the Ukraine to Israel, from South America to Australia, were fixed to their screens for the three hour Chanukah production that warmed so many hearts and inspired so many souls.
This year, it was much of the same with Rabbi Tennenhaus greeting those who took part worldwide.
The Festival also honored the Friendship Circle, a program with 87 branches worldwide, that caters to children with special needs, who are teamed up with local teenagers. These teenagers serve as volunteers and friends of these children with special needs.
"This is something we work year round to perfect and use as a showcase," Rabbi Tennenhaus pointed out. "It has turned into such a great evening - even with a little rain sprinkled in."