07 Dec Menorah Power
Many people know of my proud affiliation with the outreach organization Oorah. Since its inception in the 1970s, I’ve had, in a very humble way, a connection to the holy kiruv work of Rav Chaim Mintz, Shlit”a, the Mashgiach of the Yeshiva of Staten Island. Some of my readers might have heard me on the very popular Oorah radiothon. But today, let me share with you an Oorah story which dates back to the 70s that changed my appreciation ever since of the Chanukah Menorah’s power.
Before doing so however, let me raise a question with which many a modern day youth might struggle. That is, What can the small menorah, placed in a window, really accomplish? It seems totally dwarfed by superior lighting all around it, whether the LED bulbs of the outside streetlights, or the incandescent, florescent, halogen or maybe even mercury vapor lights indoors. What impact can these flimsy wicks and a small puddle of oil really accomplish?
Now let me share with you a true Oorah anecdote. I once went out with Rabbi Mintz in the car on Chanukah on one of his quests to find Jewish children who are not yet privileged to be in yeshiva. Rabbi Mintz would drive the car almost aimlessly looking in uncharted territory for a Jewish home ripe for his overtures of kindness and inspiration. You must understand that the Staten Island of the 1970s was quite different than it is today. There was no West Shore Expressway and a mere decade after the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was built, there was no Staten Island mall. Rather, in its place were a few fruit stalls. I remember when my father, of blessed memory, drove me to yeshiva, he would stop out there to buy fresh corn.
How, might you ask, in the middle of Italian neighborhoods would Rav Mintz be able to discover and ferret out Jewish families? Ahhh! There’s the secret! That’s why he went out on Chanukah! He would put up his “periscope” and hunt for a menorah of any kind in one of the windows. When he would joyfully spot one, he would park the car and, armed with beautifully gift-wrapped toys, he would ring the bell. Now, I’m talking about state-of-the-art gifts. I remember that somehow he had Cabbage Patch dolls when they were on back-order for two months. He had space invader technology when that was the total rage of the day. When the parents would come to the door, he would wish them a Happy Chanukah and ask if they had a young child. When they said ‘yes,’ he would ask whether he could please come inside in order to give a Chanukah toy. Who could resist such an offer? When the child would gleefully open the Cabbage Patch surprise, the stage was set and Rabbi Mintz would pop the question to the parents, ‘Where does your child go to school?’ When they answered Public School, he would ask in amazement, ‘Why don’t you send your child to yeshiva because, after all, that’s where a Jewish child belongs?’ Inevitably, they would say that they couldn’t afford it and he would offer them financial assistance on the spot.
That’s how Oorah was born. Today they have multitudes of children in over eighty yeshivas and wonderful camps for boys and girls of many ages. But to me, there is an amazing Chanukah lesson here. If you own a Cadillac, you can enroll in the Onstar System. One of the perks of this plan is that, if the car gets stolen, it sends out a signal so that the police can trace it and zoom-in on the missing car. When I saw Rabbi Mintz in action, the menorah clearly acted like an ancient Onstar System, sending out a signal like a beacon, helping him zoom-in on lost Jews to help to bring them back to the traditions of their ancestors. These flimsy wicks and small reservoirs of oil pack an awesome power that range over the millennia just as they represent the spiritual rescue of our Jewish ancestors during the era of the Syrian-Greeks when there was a very grave threat of Hellenization and assimilation. The wondrous menorah, thousands of years later, is still diligently fulfilling its task of rescuing precious Jewish souls.
Anyone wanting to be a part of the Oorah family can call the Oorah hotline at (732) 730-1000 and become a part of one of their very fulfilling programs. Perhaps you would also like to knock on a door that has a menorah in the window. Maybe you would like to adopt an Oorah family, becoming its Jewish spiritual mentors. Perhaps you would like to take part in an Oorah Shabbaton. If you would like to help finance Oorah itself, then 877-7-AUCTION is the number you want.
May the glorious Chanukah menorah mitzvah, together with the awesome zechus of Oorah, help us to be blessed with a healthy, happy, wonderful, and COVID-19 safe winter.