Temples Join For Community Menorah Lighting
Although there were clear signs of a cold and biting December, members from both the Jewish orthodox community and the reform community, and others gathered around the menorah on the corner of Beach 116 Street for the annual Festival of Lights.
The menorah lighting, which began promptly at 5:00 p.m., offered a lively celebration of the first day of Chanukah with the traditional songs including the Dreidel song and “Hanukkah Blessings” while an on-looking group laughed, chattered, and munched on doughnuts and hot chocolate.
After the crowd sang along to several of the traditional songs (played by Cantor Jeffrey Wolk on his guitar) and a brief welcome was made by Rabbi Allan Blaine, who represented Temple Beth-El of Rockaway Park, it was time for the first candle to be lighted. Although the share proved to be somewhat troublesome as it refused to turn on in the beginning, the first candle was finally lighted much to the delight of the crowd. Even after being playfully shooed away by Cantor Jeffrey Wolk when the ceremony ended, several members of the crowd happily stayed for a few more minutes to talk more among themselves or simply to help themselves to another doughnut.
“Tonight is the night of Chanukah and it really celebrates the idea that you can be who you are, observe your faith, and have the freedom to do so. That’s what the Maccabees thought when they recaptured Jerusalem,” explained Rabbi Slome of West End Temple, who was one of the many rabbis present.
As for the significance of the menorah itself, which is displayed opposite Beach 116 Street’s Christmas tree, and the effect it has had on the community, Rabbi Blaine, who later gave every child a lollipop, said, “[The menorah] symbolizes the light of peace and hope for all humankind and we invite the whole community to come and celebrate with us. We all join together, the orthodox, conservative and the reform.” Rabbi Blaine himself has been a part of Temple Beth-El for over forty years. The temple, according to the rabbi, is currently celebrating its 90th anniversary.
Selma Frank, a member of Hadassah who has lived in this community for over 60 years and is an active member of the sisterhood of Temple Beth-el, left greatly impressed with the outcome of the festival of lights.
“This was an excellent, excellent, celebration for the first day of Chanukah,” she said. “It was truly a delight.”
Joyce Semel, a mother of three, also enjoyed the festival alongside her children.
“We came here a couple of years ago and it’s just a really nice gesture,” she said. Jacob Semel, her son, added “They have some really good hot cocoa.”
The menorah, which was originally donated to Temple Ohab Zedek from a shul in Florida as a commemorative 9/11 gesture, is now held by the Rockaway Rotary Club. Rabbi Slome, Rabbi Blaine, and Rabbi Tomsky of Temple Ohab Zedek, oversaw the ceremony of the festival of lights which features the menorah.
The entertainer of the evening, Cantor Jeffrey Wolk, gave some last words about the festival.
“I think it’s not everywhere, even though this is the United States, where Chanukah can be so openly accepted in a community like this,” he said. “This is a representation of the commitment the Jewish community has for their faith and is also a representation of America and of its many different religions. It’s wonderful and it makes for a very happy holiday.”
Ms. Lieberman, with a steaming cup of hot cocoa in hand, also commented on the overall atmosphere of the festival.
“There’s a feeling of togetherness, that feeling for each other because we have all the temples represented, right here on this corner.” she said.