Tag Archives: Chanukah

Op-ed: The spirit of giving

| oped@queenscourier.com


Every year, the holiday day season gives us an extra special opportunity to reflect upon our blessings and take time to give back to those we love.

With Chanukah just ending and Christmas and Kwanzaa fast approaching, it’s clear that the spirit of giving is already in the air – almost everywhere you look you see folks with shopping bags full of holiday presents just waiting to bring joy.

While I have always found truth in the age-old saying “Tis better to give than to receive,” I could not help but relish the happiness that one sizable gift brought to our community last week.

On November 26, just days before Thanksgiving, I had the pleasure of joining Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and representatives from the Queens Museum and the Queens Economic Development Corp. at Corona Plaza to announce an $800,000 leadership gift from J.P. Morgan Chase to the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership.

This gift will not only benefit countless New Yorkers by creating 100 jobs for workers maintaining 20 of the City’s existing plazas, but it will also ensure that the DOT’s community partners in under-resourced neighborhoods, like Corona, will have the support they need to maintain clean, green and vibrant public plazas.

Since 2008, the DOT has installed 22 plazas throughout the City, and it plans to bring another 37 in the near future with the goal of putting all New Yorkers within a 10-minute walk of quality open space.

Corona Plaza is a perfect example of how effective and important these green spaces are to our local neighborhoods. To so many children who grow up in apartments without any front or back yards, neighborhood plazas are the only safe access they have to the outdoors.

Just 18 months ago, the site where Corona Plaza now sits was open to traffic and cluttered with parked trucks, causing a safety hazard for all pedestrians entering and exiting the nearby subway platform. Today, the plaza is a space bursting with activity, serving as the go-to destination where locals can have a cup of coffee, exercise outdoors and enjoy free family-friendly events.

Public plazas go a long way in helping our communities enhance economic activity, air quality, community safety and the overall quality of life.

Although Chase’s gift will undoubtedly go a long way in improving plazas throughout the City, it’s clear that there is still much work that needs to be done. The cost just to maintain Corona Plaza alone ranges between $50,000 and $75,000 every year, not including the hundreds of volunteer hours donated by those who want to add to the beautification efforts.

This holiday season, I urge everyone to spend time at their nearest neighborhood plaza and consider the immense benefits they generate. If you can spend just a fraction of your time investing in your local plaza, you will not only help improve these vital green spaces, but you will also create a better future for generations to come.

In the spirit of giving, please consider volunteering at your local plaza today. The gift of your time will surely be one that keeps on giving!

To learn more about the services offered by the DOT Public Plaza Program, please visit www.nyc.gov/plazas or contact 311 or plazas@dot.nyc.gov.

Councilmember Julissa Ferreras represents the 21st Council District encompassing Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights. Through her leadership, Corona Plaza continues to be a premiere outdoor destination for the local community.



Op-Ed: The meaning behind Chanukah

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com


Chanukah — the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev — celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.

More than 21 centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.

When they sought to light the temple’s menorah (the seven branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah (candelabrum) lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.

The deeper message of the festival is that the oil represents the soul – the spark of G-d within us. Our enemies strive to defeat us any which way possible, through physical annihilation and spiritual assimilation. The miracle of Chanukah teaches us that ultimately we shall overcome. The soul can never be put down and defeated, and regardless of how bleak the situation may appear, light will ultimately overpower darkness.

On Chanukah we also add the Hallel and Al HaNissim in our daily prayers to offer praise and thanksgiving to G-d for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few… the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”

Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil — latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel (a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “a great miracle happened there”); and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money, to children.

Rabbi Yossi Blesofsky is the Director of the Chabad of Northeast Queens

‘Spiel’ was tons of laughs

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos Courtesy of the Migdal Chapter of Hadassah

The Migdal Chapter of Hadassah at North Shore Towers (NST) recently put on a special Chanukah play.

Called a “spiel,” the play drew in a standing-room only crowd in the Coleridge Lounge on December 22. It was written and directed by Carolyn Dinofsky, chapter president, and comically combined elements of Jewish history and NST parody.

The cast — garbed in costumes — included both female and male members of the chapter.

According to Hadassah members, the highlight of the night was when Eneas Arkawy, chapter board member, stole the show by spiritedly impersonating the well-known, blonde and fashionable NST realtor Linda Rappaport.

Celebrating Chanukah

By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com



Chanukah began this year at sundown on Tuesday, December 20 and ends at nightfall on December 28. Though based on the lunar calendar like all Jewish holidays, Chanukah always falls within a several week period in December.

The Hebrew word Chanukah (the “ch” is pronounced gutturally, not like the “ch” in “Charles”) is derived from the word for dedication, signifying the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 167 BCE, after it was destroyed by the Syrian-Greek emperor, Antiochus IV, whose rule extended over the land of Israel and who had tried to coerce the Jews to abandon their religious beliefs and practices.

Per Jewish tradition, the more powerful army of Antiochus was eventually defeated by the “Maccabees,” a small band of Jews who, with faith in God, fought back. Upon defeating the Greeks and regaining control of their Holy Temple, the Jews set out to re-dedicate it but found only enough pure olive oil to re-light the Menorah (seven-branched candelabrum as ordained in Exodus 25:31) for one day. However, they needed oil for eight days until new ritually pure olive oil could be produced or retrieved. A miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days.

The miracles of the unlikely victory of the smaller, less powerful army and the burning of the oil for eight days are therefore celebrated for eight days every year at the same time on the Jewish calendar.

The most important and best-known observance of Chanukah is the lighting of the Menorah, a candelabrum with nine branches. Although most Jews nowadays are fortunate enough to own a candelabra specifically for this observance, often quite beautiful and valuable, in poorer times a Menorah was fashioned much more crudely, including hollowing out part of a potato, filling it with oil and lighting it.

On the first night of Chanukah one candle is lit, adding one more candle each night, plus one extra candle known as the “Shamash,” so that on the eighth night there will be a total of nine candles burning. Originally, the Menorah was lit outdoors, but nowadays it is usually lit indoors, next to a window facing the street. In Israel, many still follow the custom of lighting the Menorah outdoors, encased in a special glass case so the candles will not be extinguished by the wind.

The Chanukah custom of eating oily foods to remember the miracle of the oil is generally observed by eating potato pancakes fried in oil, known as “latkes.” In Israel, the custom is to eat jelly donuts (Sufganiyot).

The game of “Dreidel” is widely played. “Dreidel” is derived from the Yiddish word for “spin;” in Israel the Hebrew word derived from spin, “Sevivon,” is the more common name. (Yiddish is derived mostly from German and was spoken by European Jews for hundreds of years. Hebrew is the Semitic language in which the Bible was written, used currently in Israel in a more modern form.)
A Dreidel is a four-sided top on which four Hebrew letters are written, an acronym that stands for “a great miracle happened there.” Dreidel is generally played for pennies, chips or regular money, with each letter signifying a different action, including winning the whole pot, half the pot, paying into the pot or doing nothing. The custom of playing dreidel is traditionally taught as commemorating the Jews pretending to play a game when they were in fear of being caught performing religious rituals.
The custom of giving of “Chanukah Gelt” has been linked to various sources, including the sharing of the booty from the battles against the Syrian-Greeks. Some trace it to as recently as the 16th century. I have never succeeded in finding a strong source for gift giving on Chanukah – but who would want to disprove such a wonderful custom.

Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays to all!

Rabbi Steven Axelman, LCSW is the leader of the Whitestone Hebrew Centre located at 12-45 Clintonville Street. The Rabbi’s web site is web.me.com/haxelman.