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MICHEL MARTIN, host:
The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah began last Friday at sundown. The celebration often referred to as the Festival of Lights commemorates the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago after a successful Jewish revolt against a much larger Syrian army.
Observant Jews celebrate the holiday by lighting a menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum that marks the eight nights of the holiday. It’s considered a mitzvah, or the fulfilling of God’s wishes, to place a lit menorah in the windows of one’s home to show public pride in Hanukkah.
But these days, proud Jews can take things one step further by strapping a giant, electric menorah to the roofs of their cars. Here to tell us more about this growing tradition is Nochum Goldshmidt.
He is the founder and CEO of CarMenorah.com, and he joins us from our bureau in New York. Many thanks for coming in on what has to be a busy time of year.
Mr. NOCHUM GOLDSHMIDT: Indeed, it is. Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: How busy is it?
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: Oh, crazy. Every – we’re almost 24 hours, around the clock.
MARTIN: How many of these things do you sell?
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: Thousands.
MARTIN: Thousands, thousands. Now, I have to say, we looked on your Web site, and we see you have a map, pinpointing all the places you’ve sold car menorahs. And I see places like Hong Kong, France, Mexico, Australia. Are you surprised that these took off internationally?
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: Actually, not at all. First, we started in the New York’s tri-state area. We quickly, quickly grew to nationally, and now we’re international. Every year, we add another country on, or two or three.
MARTIN: How did you get the idea for this? I must say it’s not the first thing that would come to my mind if I thought about celebrating Hanukkah, but…
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: The concept started, I believe, in the 1980s, but people first veered away from it. They weren’t happy with it. They were big, bulky. I was a student in Sydney, Australia about 12 years ago, and we did a survey of the community, why people don’t want to put them on their car. And we heard three complaints: One, they can’t get into their garage. Second, they’re bulky for storage, and the third thing is that the old ones scratched the car, things like that.
So we sat down, we figured out to solve all three problems, and here we are today.
MARTIN: You just had a better way. It was like building a better mousetrap.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: Similar to that.
MARTIN: You just had a yen for a car menorah yourself?
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: I guess so.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: What does yours look like? Do you have them customized?
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: Oh, sure. Yes.
MARTIN: Do you have any spinning rims for, you know…
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: No.
MARTIN: No, no spinning rims.
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: The actual menorah is exactly the same. The only difference is the signage. In the beginning, it was only the rabbis that put them on. Today, we find that everybody’s putting them on, so we actually added a new sign that just says Happy Hanukkah, because that was the demand.
MARTIN: So you’re saying initially it was rabbis, mainly, who were putting it on. And do I have it right that it was mainly Lubavitch rabbis who were putting it on, or just mainly members of the Lubavitch community who were putting it on?
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: It started with the Lubavitch putting it on. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was – always looked to use modern technology and to push everything to the limits, and this was something to bring out the miracle of Hanukkah to the next limits.
The idea actually wasn’t his, per se, but we as followers looked, you know, for another way, how to bring it out to the public.
MARTIN: In parts of the world like the U.S. where Christmas is so big, and it’s kind of in your face, you know, everywhere you go there’s trees and carols and stuff, do you think, in a way, it’s kind of for people to make their own statement, too, or do you think it’s just fun?
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: It’s a separate thing. Hanukkah is a fun thing. It’s about religious freedom. Everybody we speak to that has it, you know, we get the thumbs up, we give waves. Everybody’s all proud of it.
MARTIN: One of the rabbis in my neighborhood has one, and I have to say it makes me smile every time I see it.
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: There we go. There’s another happy customer.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: And a happy bystander.
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: Correct.
MARTIN: But what reaction do you get? People are mainly – people enjoy it?
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: People love it.
MARTIN: Well, I don’t want to dig in, again, to kind of proprietary information here, but do you see any future innovations?
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: Well, actually, the model itself, although to the naked eye, it looks the same, but we constantly improve it. We’re always looking for small things to improve it. For example, in the menorah itself, we added, I believe, four years ago, LED lights. You know, there was a big demand that even when the cars are not running, they shouldn’t burn out the car battery. So we added LED lights for low consumption. Of course, we had to go and design the bulb ourselves, which we went ahead, and we have it.
MARTIN: Of course. You’ve got to have a green menorah.
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: Absolutely, yeah.
MARTIN: You’ve got to stay up-to-date on that. Do you have a favorite story to tell about someone who bought one?
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: I can give you an email that we recently got: My daughter found your site, carmenorah.com. She learned in school how Hanukkah is about religious freedom. I want to show the world that I’m a proud Jew. So, we get constant emails how people are so proud and happy of it.
MARTIN: Well, send us some.
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: Sure.
MARTIN: Nochum Goldshmidt is the founder and CEO of carmenorah.com, and he was kind enough to join us from our New York bureau. Happy Hanukkah to you.
Mr. GOLDSHMIDT: Happy Hanukkah, and thanks for having me.