Thursday, April 15, 2021

I was working late on the paper’s deadline night just before our big Chanukah edition when I got the call from Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky of Bris Avrohom of Hillside and Fair Lawn. Although I knew his call wasn’t deadline related, I made sure to pick it up. I knew what he was calling about.

I have written in this space in the past about my visit with Rabbi Kanelsky to the George Washington Bridge where I had the chance to help him light menorahs placed at every entrance and approach to the GWB. That was a truly enlightening—albeit blustery and cold—experience.

Now, Rabbi Kanelsky calls me up almost every year to attend and participate in one of the 140+ menorah lightings that he organizes throughout the tristate area. I always try to accept. Last year, I stayed local and went with him to One Bergen County Plaza, and the office of Bergen County Executive James Tedesco, in nearby Hackensack. This year, despite COVID-19, I knew that Rabbi Kanelsky would invite me to another interesting venue where the Chanukah menorah would be lit.

This year, Rabbi Kanelsky gave me a choice of menorah lighting locations, to either Newark’s Penn Station or the World Trade Center station and mall plaza in lower Manhattan, known as The Oculus. Due to the timing and travel concerns, I decided to stay closer to Teaneck and chose Newark on the first day of Chanukah. Rabbi Kanelsky explained that I would be partnering with NJ Transit CEO Kevin Corbett to light the menorah.

When I arrived at Newark’s Penn Station, I noted that much of the station’s main passenger waiting area was unfortunately cordoned off and a number of the shops were not open due to COVID-19. I had a chance to speak a bit with Mr. Corbett, of NJ Transit, as we waited for Rabbi Kanelsky. He was proud to tell me that the governor had just announced the day before—only a few feet away from where the menorah was going to be lit—that Penn Station would be receiving nearly $200 million for a full renovation. I asked him how NJ Transit was doing during the current crisis and he was happy to tell me that although the pandemic had affected commuter travel significantly, he was seeing signs of improvement. He was also proud to let me know that although NJ Transit was certainly facing many challenges due to the pandemic, it was still in better shape than NYC’s MTA and Port Authority.

When Rabbi Kanelsky arrived, we went straight to light the impressive 12-foot aluminum menorah built by Rabbi Boruch Klar of Lubavitch Center of Essex County in West Orange. (In case you’re in the market, you can order it on menorah.net.) As I am every year, I was taken by how Rabbi Kanelsky is always able to directly and simply convey the powerful messages of Chanukah, the menorah and its lights, and the mitzvah of pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle) to Jews and non-Jews alike. He also spoke about the bracha that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had given him to place menorahs in public locations throughout our area and the strength it has given him as he adds new locations every year.

In past years, when the short ceremony ended, there would always be boxes of sufganiyot and jelly doughnuts to give out to all present, but I figured that COVID-19 would prevent that this year. However, Rabbi Kanelsky would not let us down as he opened a bulging bag filled with individually packaged jelly doughnuts from Beigel’s Bakery, which I had never seen before. I asked him how he was able to convince the bakery to package and wrap them individually. He explained to me that when he first called to ask for the doughnuts to be individually wrapped, they said no, but when he told them he wanted to order well over a thousand, they changed their tune. All of those gathered, plus a good number of the NJ Transit staff and security people, walked away with delicious sufganiyot that day. It was another menorah lighting to remember! May Hashem continue to give Rabbi Kanelsky the strength to continue and keep adding menorahs in the years ahead!

By Moshe Kinderlehrer/
Co-Publisher, The Jewish Link