Celebrating Hanukkah With Chabad

by Linda B. Shapiro
Chabad’s first ice menorah had begun to melt by the time this photo was taken. It was blown over on the first night of the holiday. Morgan McGivern

When I was a child, my grandparents lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in a building where 85 percent of the families were Satmar Hasidim, ultra Orthodox Jews, who approach Judaism with joy. It was fun to watch them lower entire meals — soup, brisket, chicken — by ropes to the narrow alleyways below, where they ate their meals under arbors during Succoth, a holiday that commemorates the Biblical account of the Jews’ 40-year sojourn in the wilderness. Using an elevator was strictly forbidden.

Everything about these rituals fascinated me, so when Chabad of East Hampton opened its doors at 13 Woods Lane in 2004, just in time for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (which incidentally is followed by Succoth), I was drawn to it. Acquainting myself with Rabbi Leibel Baumgarten and his wife, Goldie, who were immediately warm and welcoming, felt like going home.

After the holidays, I told the Baumgartners that, professionally, I did fund-raising and was a special event coordinator, and P.R. consultant. I told them I would be happy to help plan events to bring in more congregants and provide much-needed press. After some brainstorming, we decided that nothing would be cooler than a larger-than-life ice sculpture of a menorah for the coming Hanukkah holiday — right on the front lawn of the Chabad house. Not only were we dazzled as we observed the skill with which the sculpture was carved, but to actually view a giant chunk of ice evolve into a free-standing menorah, where, upon completion, prayers were said and huge candles lighted.

Well — on the first evening of the eight-day holiday, a huge storm blew through East Hampton and took our sculpture with it. But the idea of a joyous public Hanukkah observance took hold. Among them was a “fire show” on East Hampton’s Main Beach, with tiki torches comprising the menorah the following year.

One of my favorite celebrations was the “Canorah” event hosted by the Vered Gallery in 2009. The idea was to collect canned or boxed foods, take them to the gallery, and use them to construct a menorah! Chabad of East Hampton invited all the synagogues on the South and North Forks to participate, and each congregation proved to be ambitious and creative. The menorah exhibition remained up for the eight days of Hanukkah, and school children came to see it. The foods were then distributed to local food pantries. For me, it was indeed a “special event,” with a very good mission as the finale.

In 2010 we renewed our courage and had another ice menorah created. This time we were lucky. It was not blown away, and it lasted for almost the entire eight days.

Hanukkah in 2011 was a milestone, not only for Chabad but for the Jewish community of East Hampton. The Jewish Center of the Hamptons and Chabad got together to organize the very first public menorah lighting, at Herrick Park, with the then-town supervisor, Bill Wilkinson, Village Mayor Paul E. Rickenbach Jr., and Larry Cantwell, who was the village administrator at the time.

The next year Chabad sponsored a “Menorahcade.” Congregants picked up menorahs at Chabad house and affixed them to the roofs of their cars. The East Hampton Village police helped, by escorting the parade of cars to Main Beach, around the village, and to our final destination, this time with East Hampton Middle School students as hosts of a party and traditional latkes among other goodies. A thrill came last year when public menorahs were put up in Montauk and Amagansett.

A Menorahcade will take place this year on Saturday, Dec. 12, departing Chabad house at 6:30 p.m. for Herrick Park, with the lighting of the menorah at 7, and a party afterward at the East Hampton Middle School.

While Jewish households often celebrate with traditional chocolate coins wrapped in wrinkly gold paper and a gift for children on each of the eight days of Hanukkah, Chabad is pleased to have participated in its own growth and the growth of public understanding

Rabbi Leibel and Goldie Baumgarten are seen with Chabad’s “canorah” at the Vered Gallery in East Hampton during an innovative food drive in 2009.