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Spark on a Park Bench

Spark on a Park Bench


The car was magnificent. As we stood back to admire our handiwork amidst the gently swirling snowflakes, I had to admit that it was the finest Menorah Car that I had ever seen.

The ’78 Bonneville, with the huge wooden menorah on its roof, would definitely make people sit up and take notice—and that was our goal.

We planned to visit shopping malls and old age homes—anywhere that we could spread the joy and message of the festival of Chanukah.

Seven or eight of us were crammed into the smallish vehicle; the trunk was filled with tin menorahs and colored candles which we hoped to distribute. As the more technologically advanced kids discussed the intricacies of the electronic apparatus that powered the flickering lights of our menorah (was it an alternator?), I tuned out and stared out at the blackness of the winter night outside.

We presently arrived at our targeted destination for the evening, a huge residential complex in Brooklyn, situated in close proximity to our yeshivah.

In the 1970s the Russian floodgates had opened, and Trump Village was the destination of choice for thousands of newly-arrived immigrants. Often elderly, these feisty Jews had survived decades of communist rule with their Jewish identity intact; yet they knew very little about the particulars of the Torah and mitzvot, and we were hoping to kindle a spark or two.

I saw him sitting there. An elderly man of about seventy or seventy-five years of age, seated on one of those park-like benches that New Yorkers know so well. The base was concrete and the seat was wood, painted green, facing a concrete chess table. He just sat there and watched the cars go by on that frigid night.

“Ah freilichen Chanukah! Would you like to light the menorah?” I asked him, hoping that he would help me accomplish my personal goal of ten people that I had hoped to inspire that night.

“Please go away,” he replied in Yiddish. “I am not interested,” he said, perhaps a bit more softly.

I tried to change his mind. I cajoled, I explained the powerful story of Chanukah, perhaps I even pleaded a bit, yet he was pretty firm in his decision. “No, thank you. Now please have a good night.”

Sensing an opportunity slipping away, yet not quite ready to throw in the towel completely, I took the little tin menorah, placed it on the concrete chess table, inserted four colorful candles into the little slots that always seem as they were designed for candles much slimmer than mine, lit them, and turned to the old man and said: “Here is the menorah. If you want, it is yours—if you don’t want it, then it is not.”

The man said nothing, and I walked away.

We continued our rounds of the massive complex, and thank G‑d, we were extremely successful that night.

It was getting late and it was time to go home.

My mind kept on going back to the old Russian Jew sitting outside on that lonely park bench.

“Let’s drive past the place where we saw the old man.” I was curious. What had he done with the menorah? Did he throw it away, or perhaps had he just left it, a lonely menorah in a forlorn spot?

There are images that stick with you. Events that transpire that leave an indelible imprint on the psyche, that even thirty years later one can see them clearly.

This is one of them.

I see an old man sitting on a bench. His eyes filling up with tears, as one large tear courses down his left cheek.

The candles are burning low and he is staring at them. Staring and crying. Flame meets flame and a soul ignites.

I don’t know where he is now, or even his name. However, I know that I was privy to something powerful that night.

Chaim Drizin lives in Brooklyn, New York, and gives classes on Torah and Chassidism in the New York metropolitan area
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous Austin December 19, 2016

You did not give up. We should not give up on each other, no matter how crusty and testy and ornery the other may get? Thank you for the reminder. I was about to give up on something important. G_d knows. I was almost ready to give up until I saw this was the only email from Chabad I had not opened. Somehow neglected it opening those that arrived later. I am glad I opened it and read this article. I will not give up just because of your story! It gives me the motivation I need. G_d bless you. Reply

Jeff Austin, Texas December 11, 2012

Flame Meets Flame.... Fourth night, 2012. I am Gentile, by any definition, as far as I know. The shamash holds fast, as close as it can to the Menorah I bought for someone else, a few years ago. And I have cried more than once tonight, praying for peace in Jerusalem, thankful for my family, my home, my friends, my dog. On the three nights prior, I've been taken by the synchronicity of the flames, that they never crossed, but danced in unison and intensity. When the flames crossed back and forth against each other tonight, I didn't quite understand... until I read this. And then it made sense. To me. A Gentile, by any definition. As I press submit, the Shamash goes extinguishes, no other flame remaining, even though all others were lit by the One that was first lit. Shalom, friend. Reply

Anonymous haveford, PA December 3, 2010

Spark I am so glad you were able to see that what you did had an impact on that man. I am sure you helped him feel G-d's presence that night. I am sure there are many many times you have had an impact on others, but just never knew it. So this is an important message to all of us. We should keep reaching out to others with love and with G-d's messages. Thanks. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma November 30, 2010

some stories do make you cry This is very beautiful, and certainly, memorable. I think you were meant to do this, and something happened, inside this man, that moved him from within, with that menorah.

We never know sometimes how our actions will affect others, but something positive, done with love, well, how can that ever, truly, fail? Reply

Ilene Sherman Oaks, CA November 29, 2010

Spark on a Park Bench One of the most touching stories I have ever read. It made me cry and PROUD to be a Jew. Reply

Sharon Bay City, TX December 13, 2009

lLet there be light.. I love this everytime I read it, and I have shared it with others. Thank you for reminding me. Reply

silvana thornhill, canada December 11, 2009

the story made me cry too. Reply

Joanna Pound Ridge, NY February 7, 2009

You are an excellent writer, and this was a beautiful and touching story. Please keep on inspiring and touching more lives! Reply

Anonymous Florida via December 7, 2007

Very moving! Thank you Chabad and Rabbi Drizin for helping to rekindle so may menorot and souls of Jews all over the world. Reply

Anonymous JHB, South Africa December 3, 2007

wow - such a beautiful story! thank you for sharing it! Reply