Rabbi Yaacov Leaf and his wife, Ita, speak to the crowd during Chabad of Montclair’s Hanukkah Fest and Grand Menorah Lighting at the Wellmont Arts Plaza Monday night. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Chabad of Montclair hosted a Hanukkah Fest and Grand Menorah Lighting at the Wellmont Arts Plaza Monday night, bringing the community together to celebrate the holiday.
“It’s just amazing coming out of the whole COVID lockdown to be able to have the opportunity to bring so many people from the community together to celebrate,” Rabbi Yaacov Leaf said. “We worked really hard on this event, and I’m so grateful to see that everyone showed up. This is really an expression of joy and unity.”
The celebration, on the second night of Hanukkah, featured kosher food trucks and a performance by Israeli-American rapper and songwriter Nissim Black. About 300 people attended, Leaf said.
The second night of Hanukkah teaches Jews to never be stagnant, Leaf told the crowd. Every person has an unstoppable and indestructible “neshama,” or soul, contained within them, he said. You must continue to build upon it, just as the number of Hanukkah candles increases each night, he said.
“We’re in the season of miracles right now, and I want you to know, each and every one of you — get comfortable with miracles in your life because that’s what we are celebrating tonight,” Leaf said.
“They can be big miracles. They can be small miracles, but you’re all going to see and experience the miracles in your life.”
And we are miracles ourselves, he said.
“It’s about recognizing if you are a walking miracle, then each and every one of us is capable of doing great things,” he said.
Bringing Black to the celebration was just one of the many ways in which Leaf has worked to build Montclair’s Jewish community, resident Jessica Schachter said. Black is one of her and her family’s favorite singers, she said.
“[Leaf] brought the whole community out, no matter what religion you are,” Schachter said. “Everybody was here tonight, celebrating and dancing and being together because we are Montclair. That’s how he is. That’s how we are, Montclair.”
For Seth Dali, who first attended the event eight years ago, Chabad of Montclair has become a place of community and connection.
“Everyone at Chabad of Montclair made me feel right at home,” Dali said. “In typical Jewish fashion, they asked me if I was hungry, and without waiting for the answer proceeded to feed me.”
Dali made friends through Chabad, celebrated holidays with those he met, and when he was married, Leaf officiated.
Hanukkah is about fighting against assimilation, Caldwell resident Susan Levin said. Levin was invited to attend by Leaf.
“It’s about being who you are and maintaining who you are,” she said. “I think it’s like a universal holiday that anyone can really be inspired by.”
Mayor Sean Spiller, who lit the shamash — the “helper candle” used to light all other candles in a menorah — said it was wonderful to see everyone coming together after everything the past year has entailed.
“I know that everybody here, we’ve been doing what we needed to do to make sure that we can celebrate these moments,” Spiller said to the crowd. “It’s an exciting time for us as a community, and certainly I know for each and every one of you.”
In past years, Chabad of Montclair has hosted a townwide menorah lighting in the center of town, usually in the area of Church Street and South Park Street; in 2019, the celebration’s theme was “Fire and Ice” and featured a specially made ice menorah, fire dancers and tables of latkes and doughnuts.