For as long as the Lantern Parade has illuminated the Atlanta BeltLine skies each year with brightly colored large and small lanterns, Chabad Intown has participated. Since the parade’s inaugural year in 2010, Chabad had been involved in small ways, but 2018 was different. This was the first year Chabad had a building on the route. As a result, the Saturday night parade Sept. 22, attended by more than 60,000 people, brought more to Chabad’s location on the route than ever before.
In December, Chabad raised enough funds to purchase a building that happens to be directly on the BeltLine and in the path of the Lantern Parade. The building off of Ponce de Leon Avenue has been in use since February, and plans are even being made for a Chabad café and co-working office space inside.
The parade began directly in Chabad’s path on the Eastside Trail, where it crosses Irwin Street and Lake Avenue, and continued north to Piedmont Park. The Ponce location is at the tail end of the parade route, and Chabad took advantage of the prime real estate for the event by setting up a VIP section for parade onlookers outside its building.
Chabad Rabbi Eliyahu Schusterman and helpers arrived before the 8 p.m. start time with water bottles, adult beverages, lantern-making supplies, and activities for the children. More volunteers arrived later with easy-to-assemble lanterns, LED lights for children’s lanterns, and glow sticks, as well as other party favors.
The crowd eventually swelled to at least 50 people, more than Chabad Intown has ever seen at the parade. Rabbi Schusterman explained the increased interest.
“We’ve had more people than ever at high holiday services,” he said. “This is also one of the best spots in the city to watch the parade. We’re literally on the BeltLine. Most buildings around here are set back, but our parking lot is directly in front of the building where the BeltLine is. It’s very convenient for most people who want to join us.”
Children, parents, teens, and young adults also participated in the traditional Chabad activities to mark the end of the Sabbath. Havdalah blessings were said over candles and wine. The group sang together in the musical service for the first opportunity of the week to thank G-d for giving light. Candles were passed around, as well as the traditional spices for smelling.
“The idea to be involved in the parade like this came from the idea that lanterns are all about providing light, and that’s what we’re celebrating here,” Rabbi Schusterman explained.
“I think Jewish people everywhere are looking for meaningful experiences in a communal setting, and traditional Jewish events that are religious, but also bring the community together, are needed. People are thirsty for Judaism and Jewish meaning in their lives where they are today, not necessarily in a synagogue. A lantern parade isn’t just a lantern parade. It’s an opportunity for Jewish meaning. A walk down the BeltLine also becomes an opportunity to walk into a sukkah for a minute. That’s what Chabad Intown and this event are all about.”