The typhoon that devastated parts of the Philippines in November had an odd ripple effect in New Jersey, disrupting shipments of the oversize Hanukka menoras sold for public displays by Rabbi Boruch Klar of West Orange.
His Lubavitch Center Fine Judaica store on Pleasant Valley Way is the source of most of the big outdoor menoras displayed in public spaces around the state, as well as in synagogues and private homes.
This year, more than 300 were sent from the store, all of them manufactured by a factory in China, said Klar, director of the Lubavitch Center of Essex County and head of Menorah.net, which describes itself as “the only manufacturer of indoor/outdoor large display menorahs in the world.”
“The factory knew there would be a big shipping backlog caused by the typhoon,” said Klar, “so they decided to send our menoras to us quickly, ahead of the storm, without installing the electronic parts.”
That had his son Mendel, a recent biology graduate with no claim to electronic wizardry, diligently installing panels and wiring, while his mother ramped up her computer skills to track orders; they all readied boxes of all sizes and shapes for shipping.
At the 11th hour, someone brought in two kits that had not sold last year to help fill the orders still coming in.
(The worldwide Chabad movement, like other Jewish organizations, knew that the human costs of the typhoon far eclipsed the toll on far-flung businesses: Chabad of the Philippines established a fund to assist typhoon victims.)
For Canadian-born Klar, the whole menora business began about 35 years ago, when he was outreach director for the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown. “The Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson] said that menoras should be seen in public places, to publicize the miracle of Hanukka. So everyone began looking for ways to make that happen,” he recalled.
The result was a campaign, sometimes controversial, to stage menora lightings in public places around the world.
The first ones created by the late rebbe’s followers were concocted out of PVC pipe. That did not sit well with Klar. “He doesn’t regard himself as artistic,” Devorah said, “but he is one of those people who would rather not do something at all if it can’t be done right.”
“It was embarrassing to have something so ugly out in public,” her husband added. “They didn’t convey the grandeur of Hanukka.”
So he came up with a design employing light aluminum parts that slotted together to form a V-shaped menora. Over the years, the design has evolved. Manufacturing switched to the factory in China. Now, the top-of-the-line, $1,699 version comes in a sturdy canvas carrying case, complete with the computerized electronic insert that allows it to be programmed to light up one additional flame a night for the eight days of the holiday.
“For people who have four or five menoras erected in different locations, that saves them having to rush from one to the other to turn them on,” the rabbi said.
While Klar said he had high hopes for the menora distribution, the demand has far outstripped his expectations; he estimated that they have supplied “a couple of thousand” of them. Orders are coming in these days from Alaska to Israel, Italy, and South Korea; from army bases, synagogues, and churches; sports teams, banks, and shopping centers.
“Nothing touches Jews — even those who are removed from their Judaism — the way the sight of a menora does,” Klar said. “It brings tears to their eyes.”
Added Devorah: “Something is in the air. I don’t know what it is, but people seem to be embracing the idea of kindling light. We do very little proactive marketing, but we’re getting more orders than we can fulfill.”
That still doesn’t make it a profitable enterprise, she said, but it opens up that possibility for the future.
A new and perhaps unlikely customer this year is God’s Word Never Fails Ministry in Duncanville, Tex. Susan Ebarb is the president of the Christian prayer center. “We had been wanting to get a hanukkia for some time but it had to wait until we moved into our new premises this year,” she said. “We looked on-line, and all the other places were offering the Klar ones, so we turned to them. They were so wonderful to deal with.”
The menora was lit for the first time on Dec. 1 and will remain illuminated all year round.
“We have an almost-life-size Nativity scene,” Ebarb said, “and the hanukkia stands behind it, as a celebration of Jesus’s Jewish roots. We love it. It’s just beautiful.”