McALLEN — Chabad of the Rio Grande Valley hosted a drive-in event to celebrate Hanukkah at the McAllen Convention Center on Sunday afternoon.

Photo by Matthew Rodriguez
Rabbi Asher Hecht speaks at a drive-in Hanukkah event at the McAllen Convention Center on Sunday.

Rabbi Asher Hecht, together with the city of McAllen, opened the event to the public for anyone who wanted to celebrate Hanukkah in a safe manner.

The drive-in took place in an empty lot by the convention center with health guidelines enforced. Each car was parked a car width away from one other, and it was recommended to wear a mask.

Hecht, the rabbi who led the event, is originally from New York but moved to the Valley 10 years ago to help nurture faith in the community.

“I moved here to attend to the spiritual needs primarily of the Jewish community, and then of course to see what is needed in the general population to attend to any humanitarian and spiritual needs,” Hecht said.

Hecht is a member of the international Chabad organization, which has over 3,500 centers across 100 countries. Chabad RGV is one of 30 centers in Texas, trying “to bring religion to people in an inspiring way,” Hecht said.

The event began with him explaining Hanukkah’s origins as an eight-day celebration of the Jews reclaiming the city of Jerusalem from the Syrian Greek army. In celebration, they lit a menorah and only had enough oil for one day, but it stayed lit for eight days, which was seen as a miracle.

The film “Beyond the Flame,” which demonstrated the importance of the tradition, was then played for attendees in a drive-in atmosphere.

As the drive-in was open to the public, many residents came with a different purpose.

One attendee said, “We are a part of the Jewish community and always celebrate Hanukkah and it is a big thing for our family.”

Another member of the Jewish community, Russell Kassman explained he was there to support the community and honor his family.

“My father was a holocaust survivor, so holidays were very important in my family,” Kassman said.

But not all participants were from the Jewish community.

A first-time celebrator and Brownsville resident, Oscar Ahumada, said the reason he went was to expose his family to a new culture and have a better understanding of Hanukkah.

And as the celebration drew closer to the end, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling lit the menorah.

Darling said the city of McAllen is a faithful city that is supportive to all religions.

“I’m so proud of our city because I truly believe in my heart that we are a city of faith, we are a city of many faiths, but we also respect each other’s faiths,” Darling said.

The event ended in a prayer from Hecht, who received a crowd full of cheers in the form of cars honking.

Hecht said the drive-in’s purpose was to celebrate Hanukkah but also to impact the community with faith and hope in a time when everything seems to be focused on the negative.

“There is a lot of evil going on and the news always reports that, but there’s more good happening right now in the world than there is evil. And this is one of those things,” Hecht said. “We are sharing love, we are sharing a message, solely to inspire and help people live a happier life.”