Menora That Ignited A Spark That Became A Flame
By Shneur Zalman Levin
had distanced himself as far as possible from his Jewish roots * A fated viewing
of a menora lighting changed everything
Cohen grew up in a crowded apartment on the East Side of Manhattan. His parents
were religious despite the tremendous difficulties involved in being observant
in America seventy years ago. They were born in Vilna and came to the United
States after the First World War.
was the middle child, between two sisters. Mr. Cohen zealously guarded his small
family and made sure to convey Jewish values to his children. However, Efraim
was torn between the Jewish education he received at home and the education he
received at public school.
lure and promise of America beckoned to Efraim, and when he entered his teenage
years, despite his father’s efforts to keep Efraim within the religious
framework of the family, Efraim left home. He left his parents’ house, as well
as the traditions and mitzvos he had performed. Over time, he became ever
more resentful towards anything Jewish. He did not want to look like a Jew and
wanted no one to recognize his Jewish roots. He left New York City for
Binghamton to get as far away as possible from a Jewish area, especially from
religious Jews. He changed his name from Cohen, thus erasing his last connection
to his Jewish origin. He even married a gentile.
passed and his estrangement from his parents began to bother Efraim, who had in
the meantime changed his name to Jeff. He decided to get in touch with them, but
they didn’t want to speak to him. He barely recognized the voice of his
father. "We sat Shiva for you. I don’t want to hear from you
again," he said and hung up the phone.
years passed. One day Jeff received a call from his uncle, informing him that
his father had died and the funeral would be the next day. Jeff boarded the
first available plane and attended the funeral. It was the last time he saw his
two sisters, his mother, and the rest of the family; since then he hasn’t seen
or heard from them.
the funeral, Jeff returned home to his gentile wife and children. He
disconnected himself from any connection whatsoever to Jews and Judaism. Every
so often he would recall his youth, but those were fleeting thoughts, and he
quickly returned to his routine without pangs of conscience or thoughts of
grandchildren were born, and he was a proud grandpa. It seemed as though the end
of his life would follow the same course.
business district of Binghamton bustled with thousands of people. Many of them
had come to do holiday shopping. In the center of the mall, a few workers had
erected a giant menora, guided by the local shaliach, Rabbi Aharon
Slonim. The management of the mall was very happy to cooperate with the candle
lighting ceremony. They appreciated Rabbi Slonim’s work and realized that
thousands of shoppers and hundreds of TV viewers would watch the ceremony and be
attracted to the mall.
candle lighting time, a long ladder was set up and the shaliach lit the
candles. He explained that the Chanuka candles light up the spiritual darkness,
commemorating the great miracle that happened to the Jewish people in the times
of the Holy Temple. Thousands of people at the mall who were watching the menora
lighting applauded. The ceremony was filmed and televised live on the local news
Jeff was sitting at home flipping through the channels on his television.
Suddenly he saw a rabbi with a long beard and wearing a black hat standing in
the mall lighting a menora. He almost switched to another channel but his
finger froze in place. He watched the rabbi with curiosity, as images from long
ago came to mind.
remembered the Jewish East Side. He recalled the menora lighting at home
with all the emotions and the ambiance accompanying it. It even seemed to him
that he could smell the old house.
listened to what Rabbi Slonim said: "The candles symbolize good deeds.
Every good deed lights up the environment and chases away the spiritual darkness
within the heart and soul of man."
news broadcast moved on to some other news item, but Jeff did not hear. He
stared at the newscaster but his head, mind, and heart were somewhere else. He
spent a restless night. He could find no peace. The more he tried to forget and
discard the past, the more the images from the past came to him.
next evening he suggested to his wife that they go shopping at the mall. She
agreed and took two of the grandchildren along. The mall was busy with thousands
of shoppers hurrying about. At the appointed time, Rabbi Slonim went up the
ladder to light the menora. People stopped for a moment to watch and
Slonim’s voice reverberated with the brachos. They didn’t all
understand the words but Jeff remembered – "Who did miracles for our
fathers in those days at this time."
our fathers?" wondered Jeff. "Do I have fathers? Where have I brought
the chain of my fathers? Where did I bring my father? – to the grave!"
Tears began to flow.
sent his wife and grandchildren to one of the stores and quickly approached
Rabbi Slonim. "Help me! I beg you! I cannot go on like this! Yet I cannot
get up and walk away from my family, from my wife, children, and grandchildren.
Please help me! Give me advice!" and he burst into tears again.
gave him my address," said Rabbi Slonim as he concluded the story,
"and asked him to stop by the next day. He came the next morning. We are
taught to begin our connection with a Jew with action, so I suggested he put on t’fillin.
He agreed. Jeff-Efraim stood there in the corner for a long time, communing with
himself and his Maker."
removing the t’fillin he said, ‘I put on t’fillin for five
years after my bar mitzva, but it was a big burden which I did against my
will just to please my father. Now I am doing it emotionally and with joy, and I
feel a renewed connection to my father and to Judaism.’
the age of 70, Efraim began putting t’fillin on again, davening
and performing mitzvos. The family issue is a tragic problem and will
take time and patience to resolve, but that moment will come. He courageously
began his path back home to Yiddishkeit. He cries over the years that
passed so tragically, but he is determined to return in complete teshuva
and live as a loyal Jew."