A Chanukah Wonderland

by Fay Kranz Greene - TYSONS CORNER, N. VIRGINIA

December 22, 2003

Tyson’s Corner in Northern Virginia is one of the premier upscale shopping centers in the United States. Home to Neiman Marcus and Saks, Bloomingdales and Bennetton, it is now also home to the Chabad Lubavitch Chanukah Wonderland.

Rabbi Levi Deitsch and his staff of volunteers have created a virtual Chanukah experience for children, teens and adults that will attract more than 2,000 during the twelve day event. The wonderland, a joint project of Chabad-Lubavitch of Northern Virginia, Chabad @ Tysons, and Chabad of Alexandria, has something for everyone and everything for Chanukah.

A life-size Judah Maccabee welcomes visitors to the Dreidel House. You enter a dimly lit room with a wall to wall painted backdrop of the Chanukah story. As you walk around the exhibit, a cd tells the story of the Maccabbees and the miracles, the heroes and heroines and the little cruse of oil that was found to rededicate the Temple.

The centerpiece of the wonderland is the olive press project, the unique learning tool developed by Chabad Lubavitch several years ago and brought to schools and classrooms around the world. In this interactive, hands-on exhibit, participants learn how olive oil was extracted during the Temple period.

Raw olives, shipped in from California, are pitted and then put through a massive presser, which is hand-cranked. The children love to help crank and watch as the olive juice pours out. The juice and pulp are then put into a centrifuge and within minutes produces pure, virgin olive oil which is then used to light the menorah and will burn for up to five hours.

Continuous Chanukah sights, sounds and smells entice the visitor to come back again and again. You can design and send a Chanukah card to an Israeli soldier in front of the painted Western Wall, bake and eat edible menorahs, decorate a wooden dreidel, make a Chanukah suncatcher, or watch Chanukah videos and live menorah lightings around the world. Play the giant table-top board game and print out the menorah blessings in the computer center. Leave your toddler in the ‘color me Chanukah’ supervised playroom and join other parents for coffee and doughnuts. Wander over to the entertainment of the day - magic shows, puppets, Jewish music. You can even help build a six foot menorah from Legos.

All of these activities and much more are absolutely free. Rabbi Deitsch wants people to feel comfortable and to come more than once. “We’re not selling anything, we’re only offering a fun, safe, Jewish environment” he said. “One kid came up to me and asked why we’re not open all year round so they can come after school and hang out with Jewish ‘stuff’.

One of the first families to come through on opening day was a local rabbi with his three small children. He told Deitsch that the reason they were there was because of a conversation he had overhead between his daughter and her friends. She told them that she wanted to go to the mall to see Santa. “This rabbi had never attended a Chabad event before” said Deitsch, “but he was determined to find a Jewish alternative for his little girl.”

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