Spreading light in Newark and behind bars
At Newark’s annual menora-lighting ceremony Dec. 11 at City Hall, Mayor Cory Booker recalled how he had run directly from last year’s Hanukka service to catch a plane for Israel for a private trip with his aging parents.
In describing the trip, he particularly remembered his visit to Mount Nebo — in western Jordan — the place from which Moses was said to have surveyed the Promised Land that he would be forbidden to enter. Booker said he remembered the words the Rev. Martin Luther King delivered in a Memphis church the night before he was assassinated: “‘I just want to do God’s will,’” Booker said, reciting from King’s speech. “‘And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.’”
The light of Hanukka, said the mayor, “is the light of humanity. Every one of us — Christian and Jew and Muslim and Baha’i and Sikh — the cause for all of us is to be light, to be brilliant, to be lighting up this dark world.”
Also participating in the program were builder Miles Berger, City Council members Darrin Sharif and Ron Rice, businessman Mitch Cahn, Rabbi Levi Block of Newark’s Chabad Torah Center, 14-year-old student Ella Gottesman DeBode, and members of the Newark Boys Chorus School Apprentice Choir.
Three inmates at New Jersey State Prison took part in this year’s Hanukka celebration at the maximum security facility in Trenton — the first since the New Jersey Department of Corrections permitted candles to be lit behind bars during the holiday. The three men read prayers and took turns spinning a dreidel.
“It’s comforting to know that Jews all over the world are doing exactly what we’re doing right now,” Juan Castillo said during the Dec. 12 gathering — the fifth night of Hanukka.
“In the past, we had an electric menora,” inmate Anil Nayee said. “This is different. The flames from the candles are so beautiful.”
The new policy permits inmates the use of a department-approved menora and candles for holiday celebrations. The policy resulted from discussions among the Governor’s Office, NJDOC, and Jewish community leaders.
“Our goal is to respect and accommodate religious traditions as best we can in our institutions,” said NJDOC commissioner Gary M. Lanigan.
Inmate Michael Schneider said, “As we sit here and watch the candles of the menora burn, I think back to my childhood…. Right now, those memories mean more to me than anyone could imagine.”