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Wednesday
Dec022015

Eight Stories of Light

What connection is there between giving out siddurim in Germany to setting up a menorah in the center of a university campus? Why did RYehuda Leib Levins granddaughter cry and what moved RKanelskys parents? How did the rich mans son manage todo somethingfor Chanuka and what inspired the Jewesses in Secaucus? Where was a menorah placed thanks to one doughnut and where did $5000 have to be paid to place one menorah? And also, who does a favor for whom at Newark airport? * RMordechai Kanelsky, director of Bris Avrohom in New Jersey, who brings the light of Chanuka to 20 million people every year tells eight tales about light.

 Two years ago, RKanelsky of Bris Avrohom in New Jersey was pleased to tell me about fifty public menorahs that he and his people set up and lit all over New Jersey.  Last year, I couldnt talk to him Erev Chanuka because he used every free minute to put up another public menorah, whether in a business district, airport, another town etc. It was only after Chanuka that RKanelsky came to the Beis Moshiach offices with a list of 100 places where he had a public menorah set up!

What inspires R’ Kanelsky in Mivtza Chanuka is a letter that he received from the Rebbe for the fifth dinner of Bris Avrohom.  The Rebbe compares the work of his organization to the lighting of a menorah, as both inspire the Jewish neshama to illuminate its surroundings with the ner mitzva v’Torah ohr.

R’ Kanelsky has many helpers, each of them responsible for his area: R’ Dovid Wilensky is responsible for menorahs in large stores; R’ Boruch Levkivker is responsible for senior homes; R’ Avrohom Kanelsky is responsible for Newark airport and other central places; R’ Berel Zaltzman and R’ Mendel Zaltzman placed twelve public menorahs in Fair Lawn; and R’ Yehuda Kanelsky arranged all the necessary permits and spent a month before Chanuka traveling with his father erecting the menorahs.

Since I won’t be able to write up the hundreds of stories behind the hundred menorah lightings, here are eight moving stories about the power of a Yid.

STORY #1

DAYS OF CHINUCH – FROM CHANUKA UNTIL 18 NISSAN

State Senator Robert (Bob) Gordon helped us a lot in the earlier years in setting up menorahs.  This year, when he asked how else he could be of help, I told him that I wanted to light a menorah in the State Senate of New Jersey and I wanted the senators to sign a declaration dedicating 113 days of education to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. 

He arranged it all and Erev Chanuka I went to the Senate and we held a Chanuka party with all the senators.  The party took place in a hall next to the Senate Chamber and we lit the menorah there.

Then we went to the Senate Chamber where I was asked to say a prayer to open the session.  I told them that the message of Chanuka is for everyone, no matter what race or religion, etc. I told the legislators that each of them can be a lamp-lighter and a shining example to all of their constituents, and that they should never be satisfied with what they did yesterday, but to light one more candle of light every day.  I encouraged them to keep the Seven Noachide Laws and noted that on American currency it says “In G-d We Trust,” in order to highlight our belief that what we have is from G-d.  When I concluded, I gave the president of the Senate a beautiful pushka.

The president of the Senate came over with Senator Bob Gordon and gave me a document signed by forty senators and eighty legislators of the state of New Jersey in which they all proclaimed to dedicate the next 113 days to the topic of education in honor of the Rebbe.  Interestingly, the 113 days began Erev Chanuka and ended on 18 Nissan, the day marking the Rebbe’s bris.

My parents, R’ Nosson and Rochel Leah, came from Eretz Yisroel for my son’s bar mitzva.  They were very moved by the event at the Senate.  They did not understand the speeches in English but afterward they said to me, when we were in Russia and lit the menorah in secret, we did not dream that we would get out of Russia.  It certainly did not occur to us that the day would come and we would watch our son light a menorah in the State Senate of New Jersey.  For us, this is a taste of Yemos HaMoshiach!

Top: With Mr. Donald Sweeney, president of the New Jersey Senate who signed to the days of education in honor of the Rebbe

Bottom: RKanelsky opening the Senate session.

STORY #2

KINDLING A FLAME FOR A GRANDDAUGHTER OF THE CHIEF RABBI OF RUSSIA

Since we cannot get to all one hundred public menorahs during Chanuka, there are places we visit before Chanuka where we do a “model menorah lighting” and show the Jew in charge how to light the menorah every day.  That is what we did at one of the senior centers.

After we lit the menorah, one of the old Russian ladies came over to me and introduced herself as the granddaughter of R’ Yehuda Leib Levin, chief rabbi of Russia under the communists. 

“The Russians succeeded in their wicked deeds and made me forget Judaism,” she said tearfully, “but now, with the lighting of the menorah, you reignited the Jewish spark within me.”

STORY #3

MENORAH LIGHTING LEADS TO FAMILY PURITY

Located a ten minute drive from my house is Kean University with a student body of several thousand, including several hundred Jews.  Over the years, I tried several times to get permission to do outreach there, but without success.  Two years ago, I spoke with someone who is a professor at the university and also director of the national parks in our area.  He helped me set up a menorah in one of the national parks as I will soon relate. When I asked him about setting up a menorah at the university, he said he can arrange a meeting for me with the president of the university, Professor Farahi.  We arranged to meet at a nearby Jewish restaurant and after a pleasant conversation he asked me for the purpose of our meeting.  I told him I wanted to set up a public menorah at the university.  To my great surprise, he said yes.

A few days later, a Jewish man by the name of Dr. Kaplowitz called me and said: You surely don’t remember me but I cannot forget you.  A few years ago, my son went to Germany and wanted to give out siddurim with Russian translations there.  He spoke to you and asked how much it costs and you told him that if he was taking them to give out to Jews there, he could have the siddurim for free.  My son took five siddurim and still hasn’t paid for them.  Now I have an opportunity to pay you since the president of the university asked me to pick a place for you to set up a menorah. Please come to the university and select a location to your liking.

I went to the university with my son Yehuda and after walking around the huge campus I chose the university center with the clock tower, between the dining hall and the library, because every student has to pass by there.  At first he did not think the president of the university would agree but a few days later he called to say the president approved.  I told him that I wanted President Farahi to attend the menorah lighting and he agreed to that too.

Since some of the students go on winter vacation a week before Chanuka, I decided to do a “model menorah lighting” a week before Chanuka, without a bracha of course, so that the message of Chanuka would reach everyone.  The president of the university gathered all the students and it was a huge kiddush Hashem.

During my speech I mentioned that I originate from Russia.  After I spoke, one of the students approached me and said she came from Tashkent.  My wife, who was with me, said she came from nearby Samarkand and the student began speaking to her in Russian.  As they spoke, my wife noticed a diamond ring on her finger and asked whether she was married.  She said she was engaged to a Jew and they would be getting married in a few months. 

This conversation led to a visit to our Chabad House after which the student committed to observe Jewish family life, and it was all thanks to menorah lighting.

STORY #4

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

One of our wealthy donors, who two years ago paid for a menorah to be placed at the Lincoln Tunnel and was the guest of honor at my dinner the year before that, called me after Pesach and said: I feel uncomfortable about donating money to you so that children get a Jewish education while my own son attends public school. 

I called the nearest Jewish school and asked them to accept his son.  The principal said they don’t have room, but since he is a regular listener to a radio program on which I often speak, and he enjoys my talks, he would be happy to repay me by accepting the child.  He even arranged a private tutor for the boy so he can catch up to his peers.

This past year, when we lit the menorah at the Lincoln Tunnel, the wealthy man came with his wife and son.  The child asked his father: Dad, you give money for a menorah; what can I do for Chanuka?

I was very touched and I said to him: I will give you a menorah and you give it to a Jew.  He happily took the menorah and began walking around the area, asking each passerby, “Are you Jewish?” It was a pleasure to see his glowing face when he found an irreligious Jewish worker who agreed to take the menorah in order to light it at home.  The child felt that he too was doing something in honor of Chanuka.

STORY #5

INSPIRATION AT SECAUCUS PLAZA

There is a small city in New Jersey called Secaucus which does not have a Jewish community, not even Reform.  But the mayor of Secaucus wondered why there was a public menorah in all the other cities in the state and not in his city.  Five years ago, he spoke about this with one of our patrons who owns businesses in Secaucus, who called me and asked what could be done.

I told him he would have a menorah within two hours.  A year later, the mayor called again, this time directly to me, and asked for another public menorah for the town square.  Five minutes later, the wealthy man called and asked me to send the menorah and he’d pay for it.

Three years ago, the mayor called on Erev Chanuka and asked me to come and participate in the menorah lighting.  I told him my calendar was full and I couldn’t do it.  The following year he called earlier, a month before Chanuka.  I told him that on Sunday it was not possible but on Monday I would come.  That night it was pouring rain and traffic was moving slowly.  At six o’clock he called and asked where I was.

When he heard that I was stuck in traffic, he arranged for a police car to escort me quickly to the center of town.  I arrived at the ceremony on time.  There were seventy people there.  I asked him who these people are and he said he did not know.  He had advertised the public menorah lighting and they showed up.  I took the loudspeaker and asked whether there were any Jews present.  An old man came over and said he was a Holocaust survivor and after living in Yerushalayim for a few years, he moved to Secaucus.  I asked him whether there were any other Jews living there and where he davened and he said he was the only Jew.

I had him read the mayor’s declaration, calling for 113 days of education in honor of the Rebbe, and he was very moved.  Then I asked the mayor to announce on the loudspeaker that if there were any other Jews present, they were invited to receive Chanuka gelt and menorahs.  To my great surprise, some women came over and said they were married to gentiles but their children were Jewish and they wanted to share their Jewish heritage with them.

STORY #6

FROM A DOUGHNUT AND A PICTURE TO SETTING UP A MENORAH

Four years ago, when I first lit a menorah at Newark Airport, I noticed a black fellow watching me.  I didn’t know who he was but noticing that he was fascinated by the menorah lighting, I asked him whether he wanted to have his picture taken with me next to the menorah.  He liked the idea and after our picture was taken, I gave him a doughnut and took his email address so I could send him the picture.

Last year, when I asked the person in charge of the airports for the Port Authority of New York-New Jersey whether I could put up a menorah at La Guardia Airport, he told me I had to arrange it with the site manager, Michael.  When I met with Michael he smiled broadly and asked: Rabbi, do you remember me?

I answered honestly that I did not.  Then he said: Four years ago, you gave me a doughnut and took a picture with me next to the menorah in Newark.  I’ll never forget how you showed me such respect even though you did not know who I am.  Now, when you want to put up a menorah here, I will allow you to do so wherever you want!


I selected the most central spot in the airport, at Terminal B.  Before the lighting, Michael gave me a microphone and said: Rabbi, you can address everyone.

I thought at first that the microphone was connected to the sound system in that area only, but I later learned that I was broadcast across the entire airport.

When I finished my speech in which I explained about Chanuka, some Jewish passengers came over to me and said they had forgotten to take a menorah along with them and did I have one for them.  Of course I gave them menorahs, thus enabling more Jews to do the mitzva.

STORY #7

PERMISSION FOR A MENORAH
THAT COST $5000

Thanks to connections I made with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, we were able to bring the light of Chanuka to tens of millions of people.  But I knew that the Rebbe never wants us to rest on our laurels and that we always need to add.  So I spoke with the management of the New Jersey Transit train system and asked whether I could place a public menorah at Newark’s central train station where 60,000 people pass through every day.

They did not agree so quickly and said they could only discuss it if I bought insurance in the event that someone was hurt by the menorah, so that they would be insured for five million dollars.  You cannot buy insurance like that for a week; there is a minimum of a year and it costs $5000!

At first I thought of dropping the idea but then I thought, I had explained to them that lighting the menorah is the most important thing in the world and now I would drop it because of money?

I decided to go l’chat’chilla aribber and I paid $5000 for insurance and after I showed them the policy they held a meeting and approved my placing a menorah in the most central location, between the information desks and the desks where tickets are sold!

When I lit the menorah, the director was very moved and he said: Where do you want to put a menorah next year? I told him: At least five train stations.  He said that was fine and I knew that it was thanks to the fact that he saw how important these public menorahs are.

STORY #8

WHO IS DOING A FAVOR FOR WHOM?

The first place I lit a menorah on the first day of Chanuka was at Newark Liberty International Airport, facing the El-Al counters.  The one who was the director of the airport the year before was promoted to deputy director of the entire airport system and a new director was appointed in his place.  I was a little apprehensive but after speaking to him he said that if I had gotten permission the year before, this year I could also set up a menorah.

Before lighting, this gentile director asked me permission to say a few words during the ceremony.  I said okay though I was a little uneasy because who knew what he might say.  In the end, it was one of the most positive speeches I ever heard.  This is what he said:

When Rabbi Kanelsky came to me and asked permission to set up a menorah, I thought I was doing him a favor by letting him do so.  But today, after seeing the devotion of the activists of Bris Avrohom, how they stand here giving out brochures and the Traveler’s Prayer which is a prayer that G-d protect travelers, and they’re all volunteers, I want to tell you: You are doing us a favor! You are lighting a menorah here, in the El-Al terminal, but the light of the menorah illuminates the entire airport and through the passengers who disperse to all corners of the world, you are illuminating the entire world!

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