Hundreds gathered at a shopping mall in East Brunswick on the second night of Hanukka to share holiday festivities with Israeli soldiers stationed in Hebron.
The Dec. 9 program at Brunswick Square Mall was sponsored by Chabad of East Brunswick.
Appearing via Skype, a handful of soldiers lit hanukkiot at 2 a.m. Israel time before Chabad director Rabbi Aryeh Goodman lit a large menora at the mall.
“Hag sameah,” said Yoni Bleichbard, the civilian chief of security for the Jewish enclave in the West Bank city. His “Happy holiday” wish went out to those watching on a laptop computer after the soldiers left to get some sleep. “I want to wish everybody a happy Hanukka. It is great to be here with you even if you are more than 6,000 miles away. It means so much to all of us here. I want to wish you a lot of mazel [luck]. If you come to Hebron I look forward to meeting you personally.”
Afterward, youngsters lined up to speak with Bleichbard via the computer.
“We are one family,” Goodman told the crowd. “We work hand in hand with Israel because we are am Yisrael chai” — one Jewish people — and because Israeli soldiers “put themselves on the line every day.”
Hebron has a heavily fortified population of about 800 settlers and yeshiva students living among a Palestinian population of 150,000 or more. It is often the site of clashes between Jews and Arabs.
Goodman recalled a recent bar mitzva he helped arrange in Hebron that was attended by IDF members. “All of a sudden their radios went off and about 30 of them ran into the city,” said Goodman. “We never found out what happened but they came back about an hour later.”
Youngsters at the mall enjoyed latkes, doughnuts, cotton candy, and chocolate Hanukka gelt and made holiday crafts. Children were also matched as pen-pals with IDF members.
Hollin Barth, six, of East Brunswick sang “I Have a Little Dreidel” for Bleichbard at the urging of his parents.
Abby Goldstein, seven, of East Brunswick explained the holiday’s significance to a reporter.
“It’s Hanukka, which is a festival we celebrate because we won,” she said.
Shoshana Baskind of East Brunswick brought her three-week-old daughter Sophie to her first Hanukka celebration, along her with seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter.
“We come every year because we really enjoy the community aspect of lighting the menora with friends and other members of the community,” Baskind said. “Also, my son was really excited about seeing an Israeli soldier. He really wanted to come because he had never before seen an Israeli soldier.”