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.