It was a school assembly for the record books.
Last week, 577 students and staff at Yeshiva Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus stood in assigned places in the school’s gymnasium for five minutes, while a drone flew overhead, snapping pictures, and local political officials supervised the proceedings.
And when the requisite time was up, the Guinness Book of World Records had a new record for the largest human menorah.
No children were set alight.
Instead, the children at the top of the formation, who wore red or orange, stood in for the flames. Other children wore white — they were the candles.
All the children wore party hats, just because.
At least five other Guinness records concern Chanukah celebrations.
There is the largest real menorah, set by a 32-foot-tall menorah designed by Yaakov Agam. In 2005, Rabbi Shmuel Butman, head of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, unveiled it in Central Park. In 2012, the record for most people lighting menorahs simultaneously — 834 of them — was set at the Jewish Center of Princeton. That same Chanukah, NCSY set the slightly different record for the largest display of lit menorahs, with 1,000 blazing in Stamford, Connecticut.
Dreidels have their own world records. In 2011, USY sent 734 dreidels spinning for at least 10 seconds in Philadelphia. All of them together, however, cost less than the world’s “most valuable dreidel,” a record claimed by Chabad of South Palm Beach in 2015. Valued at $14,000, the dreidel includes gems from jewelry donated by synagogue members.
Ben Porat’s head of school, Rabbi Saul Zucker, acknowledged that from the standpoint of Jewish law, a menorah made of kids doesn’t count. But from the standpoint of the school, he said, the stunt was not only fun; it embodied some of the messages the school hopes to convey to its students.
“Ben Porat Yosef really is all about experiential learning,” he said. “Experiential learning means generating a sense of enthusiasm and excitement and making the issues the students learn about come alive. Here it literally came alive by having a human chanukiyah.”
The human menorah also reinforced the school’s commitment to teamwork and cooperation.
“This project was able to work only because of a phenomenal sense of teamwork,” Rabbi Zucker said. Under the Guinness rules, the menorah had to be free-form. “We weren’t allowed to have any tape markings on the floor,” he said. “It had to be completely guided by people. There was coordination of the formation of the design, of the color of what everybody wore. Any one person isn’t going to do this alone. You can’t make a human menorah out of one person, but you need every single person to join together.”
Rabbi Zucker said that after the record was set, he overheard a student telling another, “‘This is going to be my first world record. This inspires me to make a record and make my mark again.’
“The fact this inspires students on an individual level is extremely valuable,” he said.