Meet the New Jersey rabbi responsible for dozens of public menorahs around the state
At the George Washington Bridge on Wednesday, ahead of the first night of Hanukah, Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky led the lighting of two menorahs. One for the drivers at the toll booths on the New Jersey side and one for bus riders at the station on the New York side.
When it comes to helping New Jerseyans mark the Festival of Light’s, New Jersey’s “Menorah Man” is very thorough.
“We have 140 menorahs today on every single bridge, tunnel, Garden State Parkway…you name the place,” Kanelsky says.
Anyone who sees a public menorah in New Jersey, it is likely the work of Kanelsky, who heads the Bris Avrohom Congregation, which has locations in Hillside and three other New Jersey towns.
Kanelsky coordinates the sponsoring, building and lighting of the menorahs all across New Jersey, at locations like the New Jersey Turnpike, Capital Complex in Trenton, the Turtle Back Zoo and many train stations.
For Kanelsky, it’s a passion born in persecution. Growing up in Russia, lighting a menorah was one of the 613 commandments in the Torah his family was banned from following.
“Because if they put a menorah outside of their window, they would sleep that night in Siberia,” Kanelsky says.
So, he made public menorahs a part of Bris Avrohom’s mission.
For years, he struggles to get permissions, until 17 years ago when his mother-in-law was killed in a car accident. Then-state Sen. Robert Gordon came to the funeral and asked what he could do. Kanelsky's answer? Help me with menorahs. That year the Port Authority gave the OK for the GWB menorah and Kanelsky was off and running.
“How many phone calls I get form people who say, ‘You picked up my spirit. I’m so excited.’ I have people who were sitting at the traffic light in traffic, or to pay the toll by the GW Bridge…you put a smile on people’s faces,’ Kanelsky says.
But he says that this year the menorah – with its promise of miracles and light – is more important than ever.
“That menorah gives us hope. That menorah gives us light. Lift up your eyes to God and say, ‘God thank you.’ There is light at the end of the tunnel – and at the end of the bridge,” Kanelsky says.
Hanukah begins Thursday and lasts until Dec. 18.