The last minute decision to move the venue for A Taste of Chanukah festival from Phillippi Estate Park to Westfield Sarasota Square Mall was made on Thursday after forecasts predicted rainfall for Sunday.
When Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz looked at the weather forecasts leading up to what he calls “the biggest celebration of Hanukkah in the community,” he knew he had to make a decision: leave the event at Phillippi Estate Park as planned and risk getting rained out or find another venue — one preferably indoors — and celebrate the start of the holiday with the guarantee of staying dry.
He chose the latter. Steinmetz, along with other members of the Chabad of Sarasota and Manatee community, worked tirelessly from Thursday, when the decision was made, until Sunday, when the celebration was held, to make the last-minute venue change from the park to Westfield Sarasota Square mall possible.
And while the Ninth annual A Taste of Chanukah festival may not have gone exactly as it was initially planned, Steinmetz, along with the sea of smiling faces throughout the mall, seemed to confirm that it was still quite the success.
“Despite the weather and all the changes, everyone is extremely excited and is having a good time,” said Steinmetz.
The biggest changes, according to Steinmetz, came in the form of the food that was available.
When one thinks of Hanukkah celebrations, they usually don’t think of pairing their latkes with pocorn, cotton candy and soda — but according to Steinmetz, the majority of the food vendor contracts had to be canceled once they switched to an enclosed venue because many vendors use cooking methods that are not suitable for indoors, such as via a gas grill.
For him, this was a big deal because “that’s what A Taste of Chanukah is all about.”
But in addition to the latkes that were still available, there was plenty of other fun to be had. A quick glance at kids lining up for the trackless train ride or dancing to the music by DK CJ Koenig seemed to confirm this.
Other attractions included a laser light show, trumpet solos, interactive games, magic acts, clowns and the Skyriders Trampoline Show, which featured Guinness World Record holder and three-time national trampoline champion Ken Kovach.
But for many, the menorahs were the main attraction. The event was capped with a traditional menorah lighting — and throughout the festival, children and families alike took part in a competition that saw them guess at the number of bricks comprising a LEGO menorah, with the winner to receive a $250 cash prize.
But a Taste of Chanukah festival is no stranger to the mall, according to volunteer Pacy Weinstein, who has helped with the event every year since its inception. The festival used to be held at the mall before expanding and moving to an outdoor venue. She said that while not being able to have the wide assortment of traditional foods was disappointing, there was a certain familiarity and closeness that comes with having it at the mall.
It was also an opportunity for people who were just wandering through the mall and didn’t necessarily set out toward the festival to learn a little bit about Hanukkah.
“We love having it here, too. There’s miracles every day. All the time. You just have to know to look for them,” said Pacy.
Marshn Goldsby, another volunteer, hoped that people who missed it this year would give it a chance next time.
“We’ll be here. Well, actually, we’re not sure where, but we’ll be somewhere, I can promise you that,” she said.