Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Evening in Downtown Brooklyn: Giant Menorah Lighting and Chanukah Party at the State Supreme Court and Borough Hall

Six days after the lighting of the giant outdoor Christmas tree at Borough Hall and three days after the start of Chanukah, we stood with about a hundred others in front of the state Supreme Court building at 5:30 p.m. this evening to witness the official inauguation and lighting of Brooklyn's 25-foot tall "official menorah," The Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht Menorah.

(This giant "official menorah" is not to be confused with Brooklyn's "largest public menorah," the 30-footer at Grand Army Plaza

sponsored by Rabbi Shimon Hecht of Park Slope, who's the son of Jacob J. Hecht and the uncle of Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin, the sponsor and MC of tonight's "official" menorah lighting in Cadman Plaza.)

(Brooklyn's long-running annual menorah wars, spilling over into the Atlantic Terminal mall and presumably around the borough, are too arcane a shonda for our goyishe kupf to comprehend, though our bet is that Hamas and Likud will be friends before the rival Chabad branches make peace.)

(Also, the Grand Army Plaza menorah in Brooklyn is not to be confused with the "world's largest menorah" at Grand Army Plaza on Fifth Avenue at 59th Street in Manhattan which has been lit up since, appropriately, the Beame administration. In the spirit of the holiday season, we have just decided to disallow reader comments for this blog post.)

Anyway, we got there to see a talented young man named Shmuli Rutman juggle torches just like the Maccabees once did when they weren't killing people (we were playing hooky, as usual, from the Flatbush Park Jewish Center Hebrew school on that day in 1960 when the Festival of Lights was explained, but Mitchell Heller from East 54th Street told us about it later).

He also juggled balls while eating an apple

and balanced a unicycle on his head while wearing, variously, his chin and a black hat, as another talented young man played the keyboard. The musician's name we caught as Elly Melech, but that may be just his stage name, changed by a talent agent or a rabbi (same thing, some will say). (Readers who want non-blurry photos and non-sarcastic commentary are directed to the fine Brooklyn Heights Blog.)

Rabbi Raskin then welcomed the crowd and introduced the noted chazan, Zalman Baumgarten, who melliflously and soulfully sang "Sholom Aleichem" and "God Bless America."

We were hoping he'd do another Irving Berlin number (our fave: "White Christmas") but were delighted when he sang the world's greatest Chanukah song in Yiddish:
Oy Chanukah oy Chanukah a yontif a
A lustiker a freylicher nito noch a zeyner
Alle nacht in dreydlech shpiln mir
Zudik hesse latkes essen mir
Geshvinder tsindt kinder di Chanukah
lichtelech on
Zol yeder bazunder bazingen dem
vunder un tantzen freylech
in kohn

Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President for Life and someone we've known and loved for 40 years now, then made his inevitable, inimitable appearance. He's at his best at festive events like this evening's, misspeaking only once when he said that throughout history, the Jewish people had "found tragedy in the world's worst tragedies." Clearly, he meant to say hope, the theme of his talk.

In introducing the Consul General of Turkey, Mehmet Samsar, who would light the menorah again this year, Marty spoke about the long history of Jewish people in Turkey and Turkey's friendship with Israel, though he conceded a recent "blip" in relations, likening it to tensions between family members - perhaps like those between certain related Brooklyn rabbis.

And Marty also likened the wonderful city of Istanbul to New York, with the European part of the city akin to Manhattan and the Asian part of the city on the other side of the Bosporous like Brooklyn. And we do hear Turks actually call it "Brooklyn on the Bosporous." (Someone we met at Güllüoglu told us that.) Anyway, the Consul General gave a nice little speech

and then got on the Con Ed cherry picker with Rabbi Raskin to do the honors and get that shamash and the other four electronic candles lit.

As the Consul General and Rabbi Raskin lit the menorah, Cantor Baumgarten said the two blessings. We are happy to note that he pronounced the Hebrew correctly (i.e., the way we do):
Borukh Ato Adoynoy Eloyheynu Melekh Ho-oylom Asher Kiddeshonu Be-mitsvoysov Ve-tsivonu Lehadlik Neyr Shel khanuko

That's Common Ashkenazi, according to the always-informative Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, which also lists the renegade but popular Sfaradi/Modern Israeli pronunciation:
Barukh Atta Adonay Eloheynu Melekh Ha-olam Asher Kiddeshanu Be-mitsvotav Ve-tsivanu Lehadlik Ner Shel khanuka

as well as the eccentric Southern Ashkenazi drawl employed by Moldovan hillbillies:
Burikh Atu Adoynoy Eloyhayni Melekh Hu-oylum Asher Kiddeshuni Be-mitsvoysuv Ve-tsivuni Lehadlik Nayr Shel khaniku

Afterwards there was a nice, if somewhat blurry, Chanukah party inside Borough Hall.

There were lines for toys for the tottelehs as well as for food supplied by Trader Joe's and great Midwood establishments like Avenue J's Kosher Bagel Hole and Coney Island Avenue's Chiffon Kosher Bakery and Pomegranate supermarket.

The latkes went fast. Even the Turkish and Egyptian people in front of us liked them despite their not being burmuelos.

On the way out we got a last glance at the giant Borough Hall Christmas tree.

We're on our way west to get out of the cold before the holidays end.

Happy Chanukah to everyone except Joe Lieberman, trinkn zoln im piavkes.