The kids at the Hebrew Academy of Huntington Beach could barely contain their excitement Tuesday as a sword- and shield-wielding Judah Maccabee — the hero in the story of Hanukkah — stepped from the Los Angeles Police Department helicopter that had just landed on their playground.
"I've been an administrator for 25 years and nothing like this has ever happened at one of my schools," said the academy's principal, Megan Carlson.
Shmuel Newman, a chaplain for the LAPD West Bureau and Air Support Division, was dressed as Judah. He handed out toy dreidels to the children as they swarmed around him.
Newman helped arrange the special landing since his father, Rabbi Yitzhak Newman, is the head of the Hebrew Academy and his son, Doobie, is a first-grader at the school.
The landing of the "dreidel-copter," as dubbed by the rabbi, kicked off the school's Hanukkah Extravaganza. The helicopter's arrival was followed by a party with food, games and performances that marked the seventh night of the eight-day Festival of Lights holiday.
Yitzhak Newman said the helicopter not only relates to the spinning dreidel, but the thrill of the experience also gives the children an added means of helping them recognize and appreciate Hanukkah.
"They have to feel proud of who they are," he said. "And when we have a situation like this in the holiday season where there so many other exciting things going on, they have to know their own holiday is important."
Sixth-grader Joseph Hertzberg, 11, said the helicopter's arrival was a surprise, though the whir of the blades as it approached could be heard as the students were practicing typing.
After rushing out to watch the landing, Joseph summed up the excitement of having a police helicopter on his school's playground. "It's really awesome," he said.
LAPD pilot Adam Greenburg, a Huntington Beach resident, talked to students about the helicopter and the different equipment officers use.
"We really try to have the children's experience with the Police Department be positive," the Judah-garbed Newman said.
Greenburg said the flight from Los Angeles took only about 10 minutes. The Eurocopter A-star is just one of 17 in the department's fleet, he added.