Two Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students erected a menorah at the summit of the tallest mountain in the world, driving a line of torches into the ground as a couple of tourists walked past.

The event at the top of Mauna Kea on Tuesday came as part of two days of activities on Hawaii’s Big Island under the auspices of Rabbi Itchel and Pearl Krasnjansky, the Honolulu-based directors of Chabad of Hawaii. When measured from its base on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, Mauna Kea stands 33,476 feet high, making it taller than Mount Everest. The mountain, however, has an altitude of 13,803 feet above sea level, making it the 15th highest mountain in the world.

“The experience was amazing,” said rabbinical student Avremi Epstein. “Setting up the menorah with the sunrise in the background encapsulated the message of Chanukah, of being able to conquer and forge ahead through all kinds of trials and tribulations.”

Epstein and colleague Shmulik Schneerson set out for the Big Island on Monday, flying 45 minutes from the island of Oahu to coordinate Chanukah parties and menorah lighting ceremonies for the estimated 150 families living in scattered villages there. Upon arriving, the pair set up a menorah in the airport in Hilo, striking up conversations with passing travelers.

They then made their way to the city’s bay, where they hosted a Chanukah party for about 60 people and unveiled their Polynesian-themed tiki torch menorah.

“One man who hadn’t celebrated Chanukah his whole life lit menorah candles with us at the party,” said Schneerson. “Many people brought their own menorahs. One person brought an old one that his father got from Chabad of Chicago many years ago, while an older woman brought a menorah that she bought in India many years ago.”

During the party, the team passed out menorahs to guests, while the children played dreidel and sang songs. Revelers munched on traditional jelly doughnuts and potato latkes made especially for them in Honolulu.

Jewish community members on Hawaii’s Big Island attended two Chanukah parties hosted by visiting Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students.
Jewish community members on Hawaii’s Big Island attended two Chanukah parties hosted by visiting Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students.

“For the boys to do Jewish things in Hilo is such a delight for us,” said Judi Steinman, who with her husband, Shaul Baruch Janes, put the rabbinical students up for the night. “The Jewish residents are so disconnected from Judaism for the most part, and it took them a little while to sing. The boys, though, did a wonderful job. You could almost see the layers unpeeling, and people’s religious and spiritual memory being revived.”

The next morning before sunrise, the rabbinical students set out for Mauna Kea, a snow-capped dormant volcano home to several scientific observatories. It took two-and-a-half hours to reach the top by driving a curving, treacherous road missing pavement in many places. While the weather was a balmy 75 degrees Fahrenheit at the base, the temperature at the summit was hovering around the freezing point.

At the top, the students assembled their tiki torch menorah, using roadside metal railings to balance the individual posts.

The rest of the day was spent visiting the chain of isolated villages on the other side of the island. At each stop, the rabbinical students would set up their menorah and answer questions about Chanukah. They hosted another Chanukah party that night in the city of Kona, after which they flew back to Honolulu.

Pearl Krasnjansky said that with each visit by rabbinical students, locals on the Big Island request more and more Jewish programming.

“These students’ visits mean an enormous amount to the residents,” she said. “It’s a big encouragement for Jewish life there.”