Rabbi Nosson Kanelsky watched his son, Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky, give the pre-Hanukka invocation at the State House in Trenton on Dec. 15, and he noted a miracle of sorts — how far the family has come since their days in Russia, where lighting even a small menora in their own home could get them arrested.
“He was very moved,” reported his son, the executive director of Bris Avrohom, the Lubavitch center headquartered in Hillside. Nosson and Rochel Kanelsky had come from their current home in Israel for the event.
State Senators Robert Gordon (D-Dist. 38) and Ray Lesniak (D-Dist. 20) cosponsored a resolution for the occasion honoring Bris Avrohom. The younger Kanelsky said that in his invocation he stressed “that the message of Hanukka is for everyone, no matter what race or religion, etc. I told the legislators that each of them can be a lamp-lighter and a shining example to all of their constituents, and I told them they should never be satisfied with what they did yesterday, but to light one more candle of light every day.”
The invocation was the first of two occasions marking Hanukka at the State House. The following day, Dec. 16, with the festival beginning that evening, after commemorative remarks in the State Senate Chamber, Jacob Toporek, executive director of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, lit the first candle of a two-story menora set up in front of the State House for the 34th Annual Grand Menora Lighting. Also taking part were Rabbi Moshe Herson, dean of the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown — who has been part of the Hanukka celebration in Trenton for more than three decades — Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno; State Senate President Stephen Sweeney; and other religious leaders from around the state.
According to the official statement, the State Association “was invited to light the Grand Menora in recognition of the significant role it has played in promoting unity among sectors of the Jewish community and its leadership in raising the voice of the community in New Jersey.”
For Bris Avrohom, the Trenton lighting was one of about 90 around the state, including one at Newark Liberty Airport, where the Chabad-affiliated center also maintains an information booth to aid Jewish travelers. Kanelsky said that either he or another of the Bris Avrohom leaders — from its Hillside, Jersey City, and Fair Lawn centers — would be officiating at least once during the festival at sites that included city halls in Elizabeth, Hillside, Jersey City, Linden, Union, and Secaucus; at the offices of legislators; at 13 Port Authority venues; and at stores and other business places.
A number of the venues had menoras for the first time this year. They include Penn Station in Newark, Kean University in Union, Teterboro Airport, and LaGuardia Airport in Queens. As they were setting up the one at LaGuardia, Kanelsky said, “an airport attendant came over. He said he is Jewish, and he has two children. So I gave him two menoras. He was amazed.”