By Amy Batista – The Cranbury Press
A special lighting ceremony was held Wednesday evening for the10th annual lighting of the Chanuka menorah at the intersection of Prospect Plains Road and Perrineville Road during the second night of the eight-day Jewish holiday.
A crowd of 100 people, including residents, family and friends, as well as dignitaries attended. This is a Chabad tradition of many decades to promote awareness of the holiday and inspire people with the message of the menorah, which led Rabbi Eliezer Zaklikovsky to starting this annual lighting rite.
Festivities include musical performances by the Monroe High School Marching Band. Hot chocolate and donuts were served.
The ceremony was based on the national menorah that was lit in Washington, D.C., on the White House grounds, which dates back to 1979 when Jimmy Carter was president. It was President Ronald Reagan who dubbed it the national menorah.
During Hanukkah, Jews across the world celebrate the miracle of light that burnt for eight days out of a single day’s worth of oil found in the temple. One Hanukkah candle is lit the first night and an additional candle each successive night.
The candles are placed in the Hanukkah menorah from right to left and kindled from left to right each night of Hanukkah. The holiday is a celebration of religious freedom and hope.
“We are gathered here at a state park that has history of being the place where the battle of Monmouth began,” said Rabbi Zaklikovsky, director of the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroe, as he addressed the crowd gathered for the ceremony. “The story of Hanukkah commemorates a small group being triumph over a mighty army and celebrating the freedom of religion, the freedom of expression, the freedom from persecution.”
He added, “We live in a time that we are constantly being threatened by forces of evil that are looking to destroy our freedom, and recognizing the message of Hanukkah that brings light and freedom, and the opportunity to dispel darkness with light is what we can all share today. A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”
Mayor Richard Pucci also shared a few words with the crowd and wished everyone a happy Hanukkah.
“It certainly is a beautiful site to see on this corner where we can all celebrate religious freedom in this great nation of ours, and that’s what we are all about,” Mayor Pucci said. “We may have our differences when it comes to politics, when it comes to our beliefs on what life should be, but you know what, we are all one as Americans, and on this wonderful occasion of Hanukkah, we all share this together as a group within a community and respect everyone, and the greatest respect goes to all of you, our Jewish family and friends.”
With that, the Monroe band played “America the Beautiful.”
Sen. Linda Greenstein wished everyone a happy Hanukkah as she addressed the crowd and shared a few words.
“This is a happy time for everyone,” said Sen. Greenstein, 14th District. “Whether the kids get gifts on one night or on eight nights, it’s very special. The latkes, the chocolate, the coins, all that is what I remember from my childhood, and it’s the kind of thing that stays with you.”
She added, “The beauty of the lights is the important part. It just reminds me of a lot of family happiness that I had growing up so I wish that to each and every one of you.”
Sen. Greenstein congratulated the rabbi on his new baby and wished everyone happy holidays.
The band played several Hanukkah melodies, which then was followed by the rabbi’s 11-year-old daughter, Moussia Zaklikovsky, addressing the crowd.
“What Hanukkah means to me,” said Moussia, of Monroe Township. “Latkes, donuts, chocolates, family sitting together, all of these are some of my favorite parts of Hanukkah.”
She added, “Today, I am lucky. I live in America. When I watch the giant menorah being lit, I remember my Bubbie, and I feel lucky that I don’t have to hide, and that is what Hanukkah really means to me.”
The lighting of the menorah was done by Mayor Pucci and Rabbi Zaklikovsky and followed by the band playing “God Bless America.”
“It was wonderful to see so many community members involved in the lighting of New Jersey’s largest menorah,” said Councilwoman Leslie Koppel. “The marching band played a wonderful combination of holiday songs and did an outstanding rendition of ‘God bless America.’ We are proud to have such an outstanding band in Monroe Township.”
She added, “When I light the candles in my home or when I participate lighting them with so many members of Monroe Township, it is equally special. This is a memorable time of year when a little bit of light goes a long way in darkness.”
The rabbi added, “That, given the rain, we had a magnificent turnout. Many people including children, came out to warm their hearts with the holiday spirit. It shows how powerful and important it is that we are able to offer this for the community.”