Chanukah took on even more meaning this year for Rabbi Eli Goodman and the community of Long Beach, N.Y.

After some two weeks of complete darkness following Hurricane Sandy, with no electricity and no heat, this Chanukah was far more profound for residents than ever before, said Goodman, co-director of Chabad of the Beaches in Long Beach, New York. “I saw many more menorahs this year in people’s windows,” he said. “I think that’s maybe a reflection of people’s need to celebrate and truly look at the positive.”

Goodman, whose own apartment was destroyed in the hurricane and whose synagogue’s social hall saw water “head high” hosted a record 400-person Chanukah celebration this year. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was still operating out of the ice arena where Chabad usually hold its “Chanukah on Ice” festival complete with ice menorah and skating.

So they made their menorah lighting at city hall this year, and they made it even bigger.

The local UJA-Federation brought in gifts for the children, and a donor provided special Chanukah “gelt” in the form of $2 bills specially designed for the children with a Chanukah logo. Children from the Chabad Hebrew School performed at the lighting and city manager Jack Schnirman lit the menorah, riding up in a cherry picker to reach its 25-foot tall top.

For the end of Chanukah, they climbed the giant sand pile collected from the beach after the storm. They lit the menorah atop the six-story mountain. “People were dancing. It was a beautiful event,” said Goodman. Some 10 to 15 people went all the way up, while 100 or so sang and danced down below. “It was a moving experience,” he said, “just to see that despite the fact that we had the hurricane and so much of our community is still displaced, Chanukah shines through.”

New initiatives were on display in many other communities hit hard by the storm. Rabbi Moshe Gourarie, co-director of Chabad of Toms River, in Ocean County, N.J., said his Chabad center creates a unique menorah every year. To bring some additional light into the lives of children impacted by the storm, this year's menorah was made out of toys and the base was filled with toys donated for children affected by the hurricane.

Their menorah-lighting ceremony featured crafts for children, latkes, donuts and games. The menorah was set up at the Ocean County Mall and stood for most of Chanukah. And their event drew a larger crowd than usual, Gourarie said, likely because people wanted to be part of the “gift that keeps on giving.”

One of the communities hardest hit was Atlantic City, N.J. In a city where they continue the struggle to rebuild after the storm left many homeless, Chanukah brought the community together as never before. The holiday helped many residents to positively reflect on their struggles and receive hope and inspiration for the future, said Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Atlantic County, N.J.,

The menorah inspired many residents in hard-hit communities.
The menorah inspired many residents in hard-hit communities.

There was a festive menorah lighting in Atlantic City and one at the City Hall in Ventura, with children’s programs, and the mayor, commissioners and area residents on hand.

Eileen Barker of Atlantic City said this year’s Chanukah ceremony drew a large and diverse crowd, filled with new faces. “It gave people a good feeling,” said Barker, who has been involved with the Chabad for 30 years.

People were coming up to the Chabad’s leadership, she reported, saying they don’t usually do Chanukah, but want to start. “I was really impressed,” she said. “It makes a difference in people’s lives.”

Barker said that it was significant that the community became tighter-knit as they banded together. She credited the rabbi with staying put and helping out. “It was amazing the way everyone got through it.”

At the menorah lighting, Rapoport said that this was the time of year to reflect on the importance of being a “shining light” in one’s community and beyond. The story of Chanukah talks about the rededication of the Temple, he said. “But we’re also rededicating our community, one house, one family at a time.”