On Thursday, December 19, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. hosted his annual Chanukah Lighting Ceremony at the Riverdale Y, together with the Bronx Jewish Community Council and the JCRC.
In opening remarks, Deann Forman, Riverdale Y’s CEO, reminded the crowd, “Chanukah is a festival of lights and a celebration of miracles. Sometimes we forget that Chanukah is born out of a powerful oppressive government telling a group of people that they could not learn about or celebrate their faith. It is easy to think this ancient story has little relevance today. I urge you to remember how lucky we are to be living here in this country at this time in history. We never doubt our freedom to be who we are and to believe in whatever we want. We should not take that freedom for granted, because it is not guaranteed.”
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark expressed, “My job is public safety. In this very diverse county, with Jewish heritage a rich part of this community, I stand here for you, and against any hate that may come your way.”
Kinneret Day School’s choir, conducted by Brian Gelfand, performed “True Colors” and “Al HaNissim.” Head of School Rabbi Aaron Frank added, “These songs reflect the hopes for the future and the Chanukah spirit. In these times, we must work as New Yorkers and as Jews to embrace the light. Optimism must win out and events like this allow us to unite with that message.”
Kinneret seventh-grader Lilly Halperin noted, “It’s our first performance of the year. I am very excited because our choir has improved a lot. It is even more special appearing as part of the bigger Bronx community to celebrate.”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. took the stage wishing everyone a Happy Chanukah. “I want to thank everyone here today who is not Jewish, for coming together to show the Jewish community that we love you, we support you and we celebrate with you this festival of lights.”
Diaz recounted his second trip to Israel five years ago. As the only elected official in a Latino delegation, he specifically enjoyed visiting schools named for the Latino countries that voted to recognize Israel. Another highlight was meeting his “tocayo,” Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin. The following week, Rivlin visited Diaz in the Bronx.
“It is important when people come together to celebrate the festival of lights, we sing, we eat, we dance. Let us not forget last year, when we did this event, it was a month after the horrific shooting in Pennsylvania, and here we are a week and a half removed from the shooting in Jersey City,” Diaz added.
Michael Miller, executive vice president/CEO of JCRC-NY, stated, “Everyone in this room who is a member of the Jewish faith knows that sitting in the borough president’s office we have a very dear friend committed to ensuring the Jewish community’s safety, security and vitality here in this borough.”
He continued, “TheGreek Hellenists defiled the oil for the candelabra except one jar. If we had oil for one day, why don’t we celebrate for seven days?”
Miller delineated two miracles of Chanukah: the miracle of the oil lasting eight days, but also the miracle that this minor population of Jews was able to militarily overcome the Greeks.
“In Al HaNissim, which is plural, the minority was able to prevail over the majority. The first night is for the military miracle and the other seven are for the miracle of the oil. We here are suffering across the county from anti-Semitism, so what should we do? We should make sure we are proud of who we are, but we should also reach out to people beyond our community. What better friend do we have than President Diaz and what he was done to branch out like a chanukia.”
New York Board of Rabbis’ VP Rabbi Joseph Potasnik reminisced about Ground Zero in 2011. There was a 20-foot Christmas tree, and a nine-foot menorah. City carpenters, on their free time, built a platform so that Chanukah and Christmas were on the same level. “It was a message for this time of year. There are too many who want to extinguish the lights for others. We are not going to stop living; we are not going to stop loving. We’re not going to stop lighting chanukiot because some people hate us. We are going to stand together as one family.”
Riverdale Y’s nursery, directed by Emily Housman, performed several songs. The program concluded with the candle-lighting by dignitaries, led by Rabbi Greenberg.
By Judy Berger