Second Annual Menorah Celebration of Lights ceremony brought the community together once again in a grass roots effort to celebrate Chanukah in Berkeley Heights.
The new tradition was started by Herman Maftes and Donna Aflalo, who wanted to share in the diversity of holidays celebrated by citizens in Berkeley Heights. With the Mayor and Council behind this new tradition, Maftes and Aflalo made plans for the second annual community Menorah Lighting.
Maftes and Aflalo were extremely pleased with the large turn out of their inaugural lighting. "Chanukah is a festival of lights -- it's about warmth and really triumphing," said Maftes. "We never expected a triumph, we expected a show-up of a couple of folks. We never expected the warmth that we received here but we shared with everybody at the Rec Center. It made me feel warm and it made us proud of the community."
Mayor Woodruff, Councilmen Manny Couto, Peter Bavoso and Michael D'Aquila and Councilwoman Jeanne Kingsley were in attendance along with incoming Councilwoman Susan Poage and her running mate Alvaro Medeiros, and Recreation director Tom Barton. Maftes recognized the council members and Barton for their support. "I appreciate all the help they provided to us and to the community in this event tonight," said Maftes.
Maftes explained to the crowd that most every culture is celebrating light and warmth and spreading light throughout the world, however, it is also a Jewish holiday, said Maftes. He then invited Rabbi Mendy Herson of Chabad Jewish Center at Basking Ridge to lead the prayer and official lighting of the menorah.
"We are here the sixth night of Chanukah," said Rabbi Mendy. He said that Chanukah was first celebrated 2200 years ago and recognizes the triumph of religious identity. "We live in a wonderful country, a blessed country -- we don't have to fight for religious identity," said Rabbi Mendy. "On the contrary, it's about inclusiveness and the beauty of diversity. A lesson of the holidays, within the diversity, we want to make sure the individual identities are also retained."
Appreciation and respect of the individual identities makes us into the community we are, he said. His Chanukah message is "that each of us be the Chanukah light to be able to bring the warmth of our own individual heritage to our families and our communities." He said that Berkeley Heights, as a municipality, is a Chanukah light. "There is an outpouring on the communal lighting and there is support for a night like tonight to help a slice of the community to celebrate their heritage."
As the crowd sang the blessing of the Lighting of the Menorah, resident Stephen Yellin helped to light the Menorah.
The Chanukah dreidel is the most recognizable symbol of Chanukah after the menorah. Yoram Aflalo, a resident and owner of Handyman 4-U and more, brought an idea of a community dreidel to life when he designed and built the sculpture by hand. He presented the community dreidel to Mayor Woodruff at Sunday's ceremony. The dreidel sits on an axis and spins and lights up. It will be exhibited in the new municipal complex when completed.
The evening to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Chanukah followed with a festive celebration at the Recreation Center with latkes, doughnuts, hot drinks, crafts, games and music.