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NJ synagogue sets world menora record
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NJ synagogue sets world menora record

Princeton shul gathers at airport to kindle 834 Hanukka lamps

Neil Wise, director of programming at The Jewish Center in Princeton, reflects on the success of the program he organized, where the world record for simultaneous menora-lighting was broken.
Neil Wise, director of programming at The Jewish Center in Princeton, reflects on the success of the program he organized, where the world record for simultaneous menora-lighting was broken.

The record has gone up in flames.

The Jewish Center in Princeton led more than 900 people in lighting 834 hanukkiot Dec. 11, earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most Hanukka menoras lit at one time.

The record-breakers gathered at an airplane hangar at Princeton Airport in Montgomery on the fourth night of the holiday.

“It’s terrific,” said Neil Wise, director of programming at the Conservative congregation. “The key to success is to keep reinventing and thinking out of the box.”

Families, community leaders, and more than 20 students from Princeton University eclipsed the old record set last year by the Merrick Jewish Centre on Long Island, which lit 782 menoras.

Wise said one private plane flew into the airport carrying three event participants.

“This really raised people's awareness of Hanukka,” said Rabbi Adam Feldman, the center’s senior religious leader. “This is something for people to remember. To me Hanukka is about possibilities and opportunities. We are celebrating that on a whole new scale.

Feldman added that Hanukka, “really is the only public Jewish holiday. We put our menoras in the window to share with the world. To me this is part of what Hanukka is all about, letting the world know the possibilities.”

Cars backed up onto Route 206 getting into the airport, delaying the start of the program as airport employees tried to help people find parking. “Traffic just stopped and I looked around and just knew the car in back of me and the car in front of me were all coming here,” said Lynn Norton Robins, southern NJ director of the Jewish National Fund, who drove from Philadelphia to serve as a judge. “It was an amazing feeling.”

At one point, there were 150 people waiting to sign in and receive a sticker, then be videotaped for verification.

“We came to be part of history,” said Jill Rothstein of Princeton, who took part with her 11-year-old son, Adam.

The menorah-lighters set their candelabra — small and large, plain and artistic, traditional and not — on long tables and joined in singing holiday songs while fire officials kept watch.

“We wanted to be with everybody in the community when we set the world record,” said Blake Lieberman, 16, of Princeton. “It’s a great way to be all together.”

Both Jewish and non-Jewish community leaders, including rabbis and mayors, served as judges, each signing a document certifying that everything was kosher (by Guinness standards, anyway). In fact, there were 835 menoras, but one was disqualified when a judge noticed it wasn’t fully lit.

Rabbi Annie Tucker of The Jewish Center lit a large menora at the front of the hangar. Everyone joined in reciting the blessings and singing more holiday songs before grabbing a sufganiah — a jelly doughnut — on the way out.

“It was really, really, really cool,” said Eve Brewer, 12, of Princeton. “It’s something I’ll remember the rest of my life. When you tell people you were part of a world record, it’s one of those things they’re never going to believe.”

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