Beach 116th Kicks Off the Festival of Lights

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With another holiday season comes another festival of lights for the Jewish people, and another Beach 116th Street menorah lighting for the Jewish community of Rockaway.

About 50 people huddled underneath the large menorah in the middle of 116th Street, for the annual lighting held at sundown on the first night of Hanukkah. This year, the lighting was again held in memoriam of Noni Signoretti, the late co-owner of Brown’s Hardware, who passed away in 2015. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Lew Simon, who came out despite fighting off a cold. After a quick debate to which way was the front of the menorah and which side should be lit first (A debate not uncommon to those lighting their menorahs at home), they began the lighting. 

  This year, it is not only the first local Hanukkah celebration for new Temple Beth-El Rabbi Matthew Carl, but also the last for the long-time West End Temple Rabbi Marjorie Slome, who will be retiring in 2020.

“We could all use a little extra light in our lives,” said Rabbi Slome to the audience, in what would be her last sermon to begin a Rockaway menorah lighting. “I was always ambivalent about public square holiday celebrations,” she said to The Rockaway Times, “but it's grown on me.” Although a last for Slome, it was the first for Rabbi Carl. “It is exciting for me to have my first public event be Hanukkah,” he said, “A time not like any other holiday,” as he described it.

Both rabbis spoke of an old debate among Jewish scholars, Hillel and Shammai, (both of whom taught in the first century) about how one should light the menorah on Hanukkah. Hillel said we should light for “days completed,” (lighting one for each new day), where Shammai argued the opposite, that we should light all eight candles on the first night, and each night remove one. Hillel’s style of lighting the candles is the more common practice, spiritually speaking because it increases the holiness, rather than taking away from it. “At the darkest times, that's when we have the ability to bring more light,” Rabbi Carl said.

Darker times are unfortunately too familiar to the Rockaway Jewish community this year. This Hanukkah celebration comes after a duo of anti-Semitic acts on the Rockaway peninsula over Labor Day weekend, one in the sand on Beach 138th Street, the other at the Silver Gull Beach Club. “We still get hatred, no community is immune to that,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo, who also thanked the 100th Precinct for their continued work in the community. “It was a difficult year for Jews,” said Rabbi Slome, although adding she is also “inspired to be lighting the candles.”

Finally, the light was flicked on by Assemblywomen Stacey Pheffer Amato, who wished everyone a happy and healthy holiday, as the sun set over the bay.

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