Dr. Gesundheit is a mad scientist in a white lab coat and a frizzy white wig. His latest creation, a time machine, is set to send his visitor back to experience the story of Chanukah first hand. After he gives out the hand-held device, which looks suspiciously like a plastic glow ring, the visitor is ready to go.
It’s the first of many stops in the “Drive-Thru Chanukah Experience,” a pandemic-inspired holiday activity put on last weekend by Chabad Centers of Montgomery County and DC Party Box. A cross between a theme park ride and a high school play, the event attracted 500 cars, whose owners made reservations to drive through 13 stations, including one where they’re stopped by Syrian-Greek soldiers and asked if they have any Jewish artifacts. “No” is the approved answer.
At another station, someone hands out chocolate Chanukah gelt, and at another they hand out a sticker that reads, “I am a proud Maccabee!” That’s when a sword fight breaks out around the cars between Jews and Syrian-Greeks.
The fighters are students from the normally peaceful Yeshivas Lubavitch of Baltimore. One student was also dressed as the human dreidel mascot, and was spun by another student. After the spinning, a small boy gave out dreidels to visitors.
Chanukah is usually Chabad’s busiest time of year, says Rabbi Sholom Raichik, of Chabad Lubavitch of Upper Montgomery County. “This year, especially, people are looking for something to do that is COVID safe. And we’re providing that opportunity.”
Chabad set up its time travel experience in an office parking lot off Executive Boulevard in North Bethesda. Participants are directed to download an audio recording to listen to at each stop to learn the story of Chanukah between the sword fights and dreidels.
At the second to last station, the Jews claim victory against the Syrian-Greeks and a student dressed as the high priest lights the chanukiyah (the Chanukah menorah) and then hands out a doughnut.
Participants come back to the present — it’s 2020 again — to an experience they didn’t have 2,000 years ago — getting their picture taken in front of a dreidel cutout.
As cars drive away, a man hands out menorahs and boxes of candles. Just in case.