You get strange looks walking into Pizza Crave with a big fuzzy blue menorah on your head. Traveling through New York’s Greenwich Village, though, you’re lucky if people even look at you.
This year’s Chanukah was the busiest I have ever had, and I owe it all to my new festive hat. The hijinks started even before Chanukah, when I received invitations to two Chabad parties; the world’s tallest menorah made out of cans was supposedly going to be built at each. "How big will it really be?" I asked Rabbi Ephraim Simon of the Teaneck Chabad house. It was the first night, Shabbat. "It’s going to be huge!" he said. During his announcements after services, he played up the superior size of the planned Teaneck canorah, the biggest darn canorah in the world! It almost felt like gang rivalry. Sorry, Rabbi Dov. Next year in Woodcliff Lake.
From left, Josh Lipowsky, Mendy, and Shneur Garb begin their Chanukah adventure.
Saturday night, the second night of Chanukah, I arrived at Chabad and donned my hat. The Jewish Standard had just run the picture of me preparing for the latke-eating contest, and some people recognized the hat. What they didn’t expect was that I had bought an identical one for my Lubavitch friend Shneur Garb. They say one person speaking out is a nut. But two? Two are dancing menorahs. And what a sight that was.
We had come early to set up the canorah and, of course, we needed something to nosh on while we toiled. So, Shneur in his menorah hat, his 7-year-old son Mendy, another friend, and I (also in my menorah hat) piled into Shneur’s little red car, decked out with an electric Chabad menorah on the roof, and drove to Pizza Crave. How could we resist spreading Chanukah cheer? While Shneur ordered the pie, the rest of us frolicked in the streets with our hats, wishing people a happy Chanukah and running from those who wanted to light the candles, which were made of cloth.
Upon our triumphant return, it was time to light the menorah. Rabbi Simon honored me by allowing me to light the two candles. In fact, this meant getting up on a chair and reaching to the top of the menorah, realizing all the while that the slightest push would topple the more than 100 giant cans and probably result in serious injury to myself and anybody nearby. No pressure. With the utmost care, I removed the candle from the top of the branch, lit it, and gently replaced it. No sustainable injuries, except some slight burns.
After the party, Shneur, a friend, and I piled into Shneur’s Menorahmobile once again and took off for the George Washington Bridge.
You’d think people had never seen a menorahmobile and two guys in menorah hats before. With all the people who took pictures of us on their cellphones, I’m still waiting for the video to show up on Youtube.
It reminds me of a song.
Driving through the Village, with a menorah on the roof. Fuzzy hats on heads, kvelling all the way, OY!
Or something like that.
Then we saw it the mitzvah tank, blasting its music just a few cars ahead. Well, they weren’t going to steal our thunder, no sir. We threw down the gauntlet and cranked the only CD we had with us, the Yeshiva Boys Choir. We gunned the engine, blasted our own music, and (fortunately), they turned onto a side street. Obviously, they knew we were the real Chanukah Commandos, and we continued our one-car parade up Sixth Avenue without any other Johnny Come Lately’s pushing us out of the spotlight.
We did get a few looks of disgust, but also a lot of cheers. Many well-intentioned people shouted "right on!" and wished us happy holidays, while others shouted obscenity-laden encouragement.
So next year, as you’re preparing for this minor festival and watching your non-Jewish friends swig eggnog, remember, grab your coat and get your (menorah) hat, leave your worries on the doorstep….