At the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, the highlight of the Chanukah season is, well, the high light: the electric menorah on the synagogue’s roof that can be seen “a long distance off,” according to the synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Arthur Weiner.
“We do this to fulfill the mitzvah of making the miracle of Chanukah known in the larger community,” he said.
The 10-foot-tall chanukiyah is lit every night, but on Dec. 11, the congregation will gather in the synagogue parking lot – for a special communal lighting ceremony.
By contrast, the holiday lighting tradition at Temple Beth Or in Washington Township takes place indoors, and lets the congregation live up to the meaning of its name: “house of light.” On the Friday night of Chanukah, families bring in their chanukiyot and light them on the bimah.
“There’s really something very beautiful about that,” says the congregation’s Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick. “We see every family’s chanukiyah lit up. We’re living the mitzvah of letting our light be seen, and coming together as a community.
“It’s focused on the aspect of making sure that Judaism is passed on from generation to generation. There’s a thrill seeing all those candles, and bringing a little piece of people’s home into the shul gets to the spirit of the mitzvah.”
And it recalls for Zlotnick “the real miracle of Chanukah: We’re still lighting our chanukiyot over the generations.”
Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson has tackled the holiday focus on gift giving head-on, dedicating four evenings during the holiday for opportunities for congregants to give to the community after lighting candles.
They visit nursing homes and veterans; they sit together and make blankets for the homeless. “We have more and more families participating,” the shul’s Rabbi Debra Orenstein said.
But at the Jewish Center of Teaneck, Rabbi Lawrence Zierler believes the holiday’s place is in the home.
“I’ve tried to downplay the need for Chanukah to be in shul – beyond lighting the menorah in shul each morning and night,” he said. “I’m focusing more on the music and the idea of it being a table-based holiday.”