For the 24th consecutive year, New Jersey’s governor joined state leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and interested citizens for the annual Hanukka Menora Lighting Ceremony at the State House in Trenton.
About 80 people were on hand for the 90-minute program on Dec. 29, which included remarks by acting Gov. Richard Codey and Rabbi Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, which sponsored the event. Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein of Monroe (D-Dist. 14) moderated the program, which included songs by Rabbi Mendel Solomon of Chabad at Short Hills; and the lighting of the fifth Hanukka candle on an 18-foot-high wooden menora at the front portico of the State House.
The celebration has always had the “participation of governors from both sides of the aisles,” said Herson as he stood outside the General Assembly Chambers just moments before the ceremony. “We feel very proud and privileged about this,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the only state in the Union that has this kind of background for 24 years.”
As he addressed the gathering inside the chambers, Herson spoke of the miracles at the heart of the festival — the miracles of the Maccabees’ triumph and of the cruse of pure oil that burned for eight days. “Light as opposed to darkness is a symbol of hope,” he said, “a symbol of sanctity.”
Codey noted that the occasion was the second time he would be participating in the menora lighting during his brief term as acting governor. “This is a wonderful custom here,” he said. “It concerns the rekindling of the temple’s sacred oil. That tiny, tiny amount of oil produced light amid the darkness for eight days.
“Two thousand years later, Jews throughout New Jersey gather with family and friends to light the menora and, by doing so, to honor the presence of God in our lives. Hanukka teaches us that miracles can happen for those who have faith and courage. Every year, the Festival of Lights is a powerful reminder that the battle for freedom is not over.”
Minutes later, Codey led the gathering outside into the rainy evening. There, he and Herson climbed aboard a cherry picker with Rabbi Boruch Klar, director of the Lubavitch Center of Essex County in West Orange, and Philip Levine of Raritan Township, a longtime supporter of Chabad-Lubavitch in New Jersey, for the lighting of the candle.
The Trenton event was held in a context of some 11,000 public menora lightings sponsored by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement throughout the world — including ceremonies at the Great Wall in China and the Kremlin in Russia, observed Rabbi Sholom Leverton, religious leader of Chabad of the Windsors.
Although the Brooklyn-based hasidic movement can claim perhaps fewer than 100,000 Orthodox followers worldwide and a small minority of Jews in New Jersey, its global outreach activities have made its holiday events fixtures in municipal settings around the country.
“It’s a revolution in terms of how the holiday is being celebrated, literally across the globe,” said Leverton. “Really, what we’re looking at here today is one small spark of what’s going on across the world. It’s an honor to be a little flicker of that flame.”
Klar noted that he has personally crafted a number of the giant menoras that are used in public displays around the world. “There’s nothing that reaches unaffiliated Jews like the menora,” Klar told NJ Jewish News before the ceremony. “The idea of the menora is that we bring light in the darkness, reaching out to the most unaffiliated Jews.”
Levine, an insurance consultant to the RCA and its Chabad centers throughout New Jersey, said that the occasion marked the first time he was asked to light a candle at the State House. “It’s the greatest honor ever bestowed on me in my life,” he said.
Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky of the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe Township brought a contingent of close to 50 Monroe residents to the program. “It’s always a special thing,” Zaklikovsky said as he stood outside the Assembly Chambers holding the hands of his young children Moussia and Mendel. “It means a lot to the residents that government participates in the Hanukka celebration and the universal symbol of the menora.”
The public menora display is all about the freedom of religion, said Rabbi Avraham Bernstein of Chabad of Western Monmouth County in Freehold. “We’re proud to be who we are and to help everybody feel the same way,” he said. “It’s a statement that we’re all open and free to practice our religion.”
Added Rabbi Dovid Dubov of Chabad-Lubavitch of Greater Mercer County, “This is a way of reaching to every single Jewish home, reminding them, especially the unaffiliated, and giving them some Jewish identity.”
Greenstein, who serves as assistant majority leader of the General Assembly, welcomed the public event. “It’s wonderful,” she told NJJN, “a happy time of the year for every group. I like to see different celebrations at the State House. If we can’t do it here, where can we do it?”
Philip Kirschner, chair of the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education, agreed. “I think it’s terrific,” he said. “Where else can you go where we commemorate the lighting of the menora right outside the State House? It’s a great day.”
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