Chanukah Night at State Farm Arena

Chanukah Night at State Farm Arena

State Farm Arena welcomed the local Jewish community to celebrate Chanukah at the Atlanta Hawks’ game against the Orlando Magic.

Anat Sultan-Dodan, Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta, was on hand at State Farm Arena on Dec. 19 to help light the menorah for the team’s Chanukah celebration. // Photos by Atlanta Hawks
Anat Sultan-Dodan, Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta, was on hand at State Farm Arena on Dec. 19 to help light the menorah for the team’s Chanukah celebration. // Photos by Atlanta Hawks

On Dec. 19, the 17,809 fans who filed into State Farm Arena to watch the Atlanta Hawks take on the Orlando Magic didn’t just lay eyes on Trae Young nailing floaters in the lane or Dejounte Murray swishing baseline jumpers or Orlando’s 20-year-old rookie sensation Paolo Banchero showcasing his limitless potential. In addition to said excitement—and a resounding 126-125 win for the Hawks—the masses were treated to a beautiful halftime ceremony glorifying Chanukah, an event held for the eighth consecutive winter by the Hawks in conjunction with Chabad of Georgia.

Given the current social climate, this year’s event, one largely organized by Emily Hanover, Manager of Group Experiences and Junior Hawks Programs, and featuring Rabbi Isser New, associate director of Chabad of Georgia, Hawks principal owner Jami Gertz, and Anat Sultan-Dadon, Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta, naturally took on a special meaning.

“A public menorah lighting is something that is of great importance to us, especially at this time,” Sultan-Dadon told the Atlanta Jewish Times shortly after the ceremony, which marked her first time being on the State Farm Arena court lighting a menorah. “We are proud as Israelis, and we are proud as Jews to be able to celebrate in public. I think it’s beautiful that the Hawks see the value in that.

“I think we are currently at a time where we are seeing a very concerning rise in the expressions of antisemitism, globally and here in the United States. It is an atmosphere in which many feel unsafe, and I think to have a public display of a Jewish holiday, to have the lighting of the menorah, to have all of the stadium lit with ‘Happy Chanukah,’ I think it creates a space where Jews can celebrate in public. I think that especially now where some may be apprehensive about being proudly Jewish in public, I think it is important to send that message to the Atlanta community and beyond. It’s moving to be able to celebrate this here.”

At halftime of the Hawks’ game on Dec. 19, Rabbi Isser New served as the master of ceremonies for the annual menorah lighting celebration.

Even amidst the deeper underlying meanings of such an event glorifying Judaism, the halftime celebration itself was, at times, both hip (there was a neat Chanukah-style rendition of Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” song) and lighthearted (Rabbi New at one point good-naturedly referred to the Hawks winning a championship as a miracle, a la one befitting Chanukah). Also of note was the fact that the stands were uncharacteristically full of fans at the half, a stark contrast to the typical scene of patrons filing into the concourses, which, on this night, offered an array of kosher food options.

Meanwhile, the nearly 10-minute long Chanukah celebration was sandwiched between two entertaining halves of basketball, which culminated in arguably the Hawks’ most scintillating win of the young season, one played in front of a jazzed up sold-out crowd (somewhat of a rarity for a Monday night against a middling opponent) that was well represented by members of the greater Atlanta Jewish community.

“We always play off the energy of our crowd,” said Hawks head coach Nate McMillan, following his team’s one-point win that was sealed in the final seconds after Murray sank a pair of free throws to put Atlanta back on top after Orlando staged an improbable comeback in the waning minutes of regulation. “I’ve always said we have to give our crowd something to cheer about. I thought we did a good job in the second quarter where we were getting stops and you could feel the energy in the building. Our fanbase is going to be there to support us. Certainly, when you don’t give them energy, you can also get tight.”

No one is more responsible for igniting the fanbase than Young, who poured in 37 points while dishing out 13 assists in a game that, at the time, put the Hawks back above .500 with a 16-15 record to kick off their three-game homestand.

“Besides the fact that we won, I don’t think we finished the game as well as we should have,” Young admitted post-game.

As Young and the Hawks look to maintain a winning record for the balance of the season, there promises to be more special evenings such as Chanukah Night. Indeed, the Hawks, who have forged a close bond with Chabad of Georgia over the years, will continue to pay homage to Judaic culture later this season when their G League affiliate, the College Park Skyhawks, will host a Jewish Heritage Celebration at Gateway Arena on Sunday, Jan. 29, when Ryan Turell and the Motor City Cruise are in town, followed by another edition of Israeli Heritage Night when Deni Avdija and the Washington Wizards visit this spring.

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