With great satisfaction, the Rabbinical Center of Europe concludes the “Chanukah” project. Over a hundred thousand Chanukiyot were lit in hundreds of thousands of homes in approximately six hundred Jewish communities throughout Europe.
Chairman of the RCE Rabbi Menachem Margolin noted that he sees the Chanukah Project as an extremely important undertaking. RCE CEO Rabbi Arie Goldberg stated:” More than six months ago we started ordering the Chanukah kits that were distributed for the fourth year. It is not something to be taken obviously as the logistics are complex, and the expenses are high. Still, our goal was achieved. Over a hundred thousand flames were lit in hundreds of thousands of Jewish homes throughout Europe with the help of the “BASAD” organization under the management of Rabbi Yehuda Reichman, who toiled night and day to make this project succeed.”
The Vice President of the RCE Rabbi Yosef Bainhaker emphasized ” “The rabbis of many communities in Europe gave Chanukiyot to the Jews in cities scattered across the continent. Inside each kit contained: a Chanukiah, candles, a dreidel and instruction booklet with the Brachot for lighting in four languages: English, French, German and Russian.”
To get a glimpse of the massive magnitude project, we spoke with Rabbi Yosef Amar from France: “We have a relationship with 1500 families scattered over 400 settlements and towns in Region 77 in France. During the Chanukah holiday there was torrential and heavy rain. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop us from going out every night as activity time is short. At 9 pm people are already asleep, and it is not possible to knock on doors after, so we hurried every evening to distribute.
“The Jews whom we received Chanukiyot are at the moment are far from observing mitzvot. Observers do not live in this area and these 1500 families have a personal relationship with me and they receive Chanukiyot and Matzot. In preparation for Chanukah, I distributed 400 Chanukiyot in 150 communities. We have 3 teams on behalf of the Chabad house that move around in different communities. It is a driving distance of 10-15 km between each of the settlements where hundreds of residents live. In Each are there are only 2-3 families that are Jewish. They are spread over hundreds of kilometers as it’s a very wide area. Unlike Paris, where the houses are built vertically, in area 77 the houses are built horizontally. There are no buildings, and everything is built in rural areas, as in the days of the Baal Shem Tov.
How did you get to all these Jewish families?
“80% of the families are scattered across the different cities. We get names of Jews by word of mouth, or the families call us and ask us to come and bring a Chanukiah. One of the days of Chanukah, we had a Bat Mitzvah at our Chabad home. When the celebration was over, I went out to distribute Chanukiyot throughout the area. It took me 5 hours. The goal was to encourage Jews to light Chanukah candles. I visited 22 different neighborhoods.”
“In one of the neighborhoods there was a family of a woman with two children. Her father, who lives in Nice, France, asked me to come and light Chanukah candles for her. Along with the families I visited, I also came to her. She was very excited and said she would continue to keep in touch with us.”
“On Friday a Jew called at seven in the morning. She told me that her cousin lives in my area and doesn’t have a Chanukiah. I called her and it turned out that she is the only Jew in the area and has only 2 daughters. I told her that Shabbat starts at 4:30 pm. I will arrive a little earlier with Chanukah candles.”
” When I arrived there, she said that she was uncomfortable for me to come in since there was a Xmas tree in the house. I told her that I’m not scared of a tree and came in, told her about Chanukah and put a Mezuzah up on her door.”
Another night during Chanukah I came to a small town that I was told had 3 Jewish families who go to bed early because they get up early for work. At 9 p.m. I arrived at the first Jewish home. The woman was afraid to open the door. I told her I just came to bring a Chanukiah. I put down the Chanukiah and left. A few minutes later she called excitedly and said that she hadn’t lit Chanukiah in 20 years and now, thanks to me, she would. Later she told me that her daughter became a Moslem, so she has no Mezuzot on her house. I told her it was important to put up Mezuzot. I returned to her, and we arranged a mezuzah.
“In one of the towns, an elderly man opened the window for me. I told him ‘Happy Chanukah’. He told me to come in. It was pouring rain outside. Not a living soul. This person appeared in my records as a Jew who receives Matzah, but I did not know if he was indeed Jewish. When I entered, I noticed that there was not a single Jewish sign in the house. We chatted a little. He told me he was 88 years old, who came to France from Tunisia 60 years ago. He is Jewish but his wife is Christian. In all these years he did not light a Chanukah. When we went to light the candles, I was surprised to hear him recite the Brachot on candles normally as he did in his childhood in Tunisia.”
“The stories are endless. Every night of Chanukah, thanks to the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, we went out to light candles and the flames of abandoned Jewish souls. We made dozens of home visits every day.”
Were you welcomed everywhere?
“Not everyone welcomed us with a warmly. Some people were bothered that I reminded them of their Judaism. There were those who lit it with joy. One night I drove 50 km to bring a Chanukiah to a Jewish woman. She was surprised that I had arrived but asked me to leave the Chanukiyot outside and she would bring them into the house later. After that she was convinced and agreed to put up a mezuzah. She later sent me a photo of the lit Chanukiah and thanked me very much.”
“Besides the home visits, we mailed 400 Chanukah kits to Jews who live in very distant areas. A trip of 300 km in each direction. Some of them called and thanked for the unique delivery. Besides the home visits, we held Chanukah candle lighting in four different districts.”
Another Rabbi supported by the RCE, is Rabbi Shmuel Brodman, rabbi of the Munich community, Germany, which congregates 10,000 Jews. It is a well-organized community with educational institutions for all ages alongside magnificent synagogues and Mikvahs. This is the second year that he has been assisted by the RCE. Rabbi Brodman who works parallel to Rabbi Yisrael Diskin, the first Shaliach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Germany the past 30 years, whose activity and work is praised by Rabbi Brodman, as he emphasizes the great cooperation between them.
When Rabbi Brodman moved to Munich he explained: “In the past I taught for six years at Chabad institutions in Cape Town in Africa. After that I was offered to serve as the rabbi of the community in Munich. I have a close relationship with the heads of the RCE who provide assistance on any subject needed. In preparation for Chanukah, I ordered 700 Chanukah kits for students in educational institutions. I handed them all out. If I had 200 more, they would be handed out just as quickly.”
“Munich, formerly the home of Nazis, is a tourist city where many conferences are held. We have a full-service restaurant and a Simcha hall. The Chanukah activity helped us a lot”, he notes.