WEST ROGERS PARK — Moshe Sasonkin, a 20-year-old student of religious school Lubavitch Mesivta, said the best way to spread Hanukkah cheer is to strap a super-sized menorah to the bed of a rented truck and blast Jewish blessings over loudspeakers to passers-by all over the city.
He and a dozen other young Jewish men have been doing just that for the last eight days, as the holiday, which began on Thanksgiving, comes to end at sundown.
Even non-Jews who are on the receiving end of their message appreciate the holiday well-wishes, said Sasonkin.
"You get people saying, 'I wish I was Jewish today,'" said Sasonkin, who has taken to the streets to pass out mini-menorahs and wish a happy Hanukkah to "spread more light" about his religion.
For the last 18 years, members of the Hasidic Lubavitch-Chabad movement have attached light-up menorahs to the top of their cars, too.
Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, director of Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, said more than 100 cars and trucks in the Chicago area were outfitted with nine-branched candelabra this year. They also set up the 30-foot-tall menorah in Daley Plaza.
"It gets bigger and bigger every year," he said Thursday from his office at 2833 W. Howard St.
And more people are beginning to notice.
"Even just driving down the highway — when I'm in my car and I have this menorah — I get high-fives, I get people honking their horn and waving," he said. "Everyone loves the opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah, and we're here to give more people that opportunity."
With 3,500 centers worldwide, he says, Lubavitch-Chebad's street preaching encourages Jews to recognize the holiday, which commemorates the rededication of the Jewish Temple by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrians in ancient times.
"It doesn't matter the level of involvement," he said of prospective members. "Chabad is here to reach out to everybody."
On Wednesday night, 16-year-old Schneur Kagan had been standing at Morse and Glenwood avenues with a paper bag full of Hanukkah candles and small menorahs. (Moscowitz said they pass out 5,000 every year.)
"On Hanukkah, one of the things we do is spread the light. Every single Jewish person should have a menorah in their house," the 16-year-old said as a man walked by on the balmy evening.
"Are you Jewish?" Kagan asked him, as he had asked others dozens of times before.
"No, I'm Irish, actually," the passer-by said with a quick smile.
"Well, happy Hanukkah!"