In the Media

Chanukah Arrives - Giant Menorah will be Lit
Daily News

Thursday, December 21, 2000
By Joyce Shelby
Daily News Staff Writer

When a Chanukah menorah is 27 feet high, extra effort is required to assure that it is in order and there's enough olive oil to last for eight days.

But Rabbi Hershel Okunov of Brighton Beach rose to the task yesterday morning by climbing aboard a cherry picker so that he could install new glass lamps in the menorah on the corner of Brighton Beach and Coney Island Aves. and fill the menorah's brass bases with oil.

Chanukah, the eight-day celebration also known as the Festival of Lights, begins at sundown today. Okunov said the holiday has special significance for the Russian Jews of Brighton Beach.

"Some people remember their grandfathers putting up a menorah, but they had to lock the doors to do it," he said. "Now, we do it publicly."

A native of Ukraine, Ckunov is a founder of FREE (Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe), an organization established in 1968 to assist Jews from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The rabbi said FREE puts up a large menorah annually so that everyone in the area can see it.

"When people ride by on the train or look out of their apartment windows, we want to remind them of the great miracles that happened," the rabbi said.

Chanukah celebrates both a military and a spiritual victory that took place more than 2, 100 years ago after a Syrian king ordered the Jews of Judea to reject their religion and worship Greek gods.

Judah Maccabee and his four brothers refused. They formed an army and, though greatly outnumbered, eventually drove out the Syrians and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Maccabees removed Greek symbols and statues from the Temple, but when they were ready to rededicate the sacred site, they found only one tiny jug of olive oil that could be used to light the Temple's eternal light.

Although there was only enough oil for one day, the oil lasted for eight.

Okunov said, "This was a miracle, and here we can celebrate it without fear. It is a great feeling. America is a great country."

Rabbi Aaron Raskin, spiritual leader of Congregation B'nai Avraharn in Brooklyn Heights, said that the holiday is a source of pride for all Jews.

The first candle of that congregation's 20-foot-high menorah, in Columbus Park near Borough Hall, will be lit at 5 p.m. by lawyer Steven Cohen.

Raskin said, "We'll have a live band, potato latkes for anyone who passes by, and, for the children, gifts, toys and chocolate, or Chanukah gelt, as we call it.

"And there will be something money cannot buy: The spirit of Chanukah. The holiday has a universal message. Everyone, regardless of race or creed, must work to bring more light, more kindness and more good deeds into the world," said Raskin.

The festivities in Brighton Beach - which will include music, dancing and a weightlifting contest - will begin at 5 p.m.

At 5:30 p.m., Borough President Howard Golden is inviting the public to a menorah lighting ceremony at Borough Hall Plaza. Music will be provided by the Yeshiva Rambam Choir from Flatlands.

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