Talk about your warm and fuzzy holiday traditions.

Worried many of the Chicago’s least fortunate residents are ill-equipped to face the blustery winds that give the city its name, a group of inspired fourth-graders are determined to make a difference.

Every year, Rabbi Avraham Varnai’s fourth-grade class at the Seymour J. Abrams Cheder Lubavitch Hebrew Day School near Chicago build a giant menorah, often choosing to make it out of items that can then be donated to charity.

This year, they collected more than 1,500 new scarves, hats, gloves and other items of winter gear, and made a 7-foot Chanukah menorah structure out of it all. The unique menorah was (very carefully) lit Wednesday before being dismantled and distributed to people in need.

A History of Charitable Ideas

“We produced our first popsicle-stick menorah back in 2004,” says Varnai, who teaches Judaic studies to fourth-grade boys and girls, respectively. “Since 2007, when we made one of the first can menorahs, our project has been focused on helping others.”

In 2008, they made a menorah out of clear tubes filled with pennies donated to Chai Lifeline, a nonprofit organization that helps kids with cancer. In 2009, the children collected thousands of toys, which they then distributed to hospitals and other organizations after Chanukah. In 2010, they made a menorah out of Shabbat-candle kits, then took it apart and gave the kits to women and girls in the area, asking them to light Shabbat candles in merit of any two people in the community who were ill at the time.

In 2011, they constructed their menorah out of greeting cards for terror victims in Israel (every card was also accompanied by a dollar that went to the Chabad Terror Victims Project to use toward gifts for affected children). In 2012, the menorah incorporated a giant mosaic of thousands of individually decorated tiles, each one representing another good deed pledged.

In 2013, they again constructed a can menorah, but one much bigger than the original, using a total of 4,000 cans. Last year, the menorah was made up of 1,770 miniature menorahs, which were then distributed to people in need.

“I never fail to be amazed by how the children rise to the occasion every year,” says Varnai, who was recently honored with the Hartman Family Foundation 2015 “Educator of the Year” award. “They come up with creative ideas to solicit donations, build, plan and then work so hard to give all the stuff out to people in need.”

A native of Vancouver, Canada, Varnai says the idea of collecting winter gear fits right into the theme of Chanukah: “Every day of Chanukah we add an additional light, making the world that much warmer and brighter. Through these kids’ hard work, the world will be a warmer, more pleasant place for so many people.”

For Chanukah information—including locating public menorah-lightings—inspiration, recipes, events for the whole family and more, visit the Chabad.org Chanukah 2015 page here.

More than 1,500 new scarves, hats, gloves and other much-needed winter items were collected by the class and made into a 7-foot Chanukah menorah, which on Wednesday was (very carefully) lit. (Photo: Brett Walkow)
More than 1,500 new scarves, hats, gloves and other much-needed winter items were collected by the class and made into a 7-foot Chanukah menorah, which on Wednesday was (very carefully) lit. (Photo: Brett Walkow)