As 2020 has been full of sickness, death and despair, Rabbi Saadia Pewzner of the Bronx Jewish Center hopes Hanukkah brings light into people’s lives.
While the festive holiday began Dec. 10 and lasts eight days, it isn’t just about receiving gifts. Pewzner told the Bronx Times people need to feel happy and hopeful amongst these dark times.
“The message of Hanukkah is about bringing a light and when a person sees a menorah they have a good feeling,” the rabbi stated.
In the past Pewzner held four or five menorah lightings throughout the borough and a large party at his house on Haight Ave. But, due to the pandemic and the need to social distance, he had to adjust his plans.
Last year he held a Hanukkah event for the first time at P.S. 357, 800 Lydig Ave., which was a huge success and had hoped to do again.
So, in an effort to broaden his reach, Pewzner took the money allocated for his annual Hanukkah party and used it to buy several large menorahs.
“You can’t really celebrate Hanukkah in a traditional fashion,” he explained. “I felt people needed something positive to talk about.”
The rabbi put menorahs at the Triboro Bridge, Graham Triangle in the south Bronx, Peace Plaza, in front of his house, Loreto Park, Boston Garden by Allerton Ave., Owen Dolan Park in Westchester Square, Amendola Plaza in Pelham Bay, Bay Plaza Mall and off of Fordham Road.
In fact, when he spoke with Westchester Square BID Executive Director Yasmin Cruz she was thrilled that he wanted have a menorah in the area. On the first night of Hanukkah, Pewzner was joined by Assembly Members Michael Benedetto and Nathalia Fernandez and Councilman Mark Gjonaj.
During Passover the rabbi delivered care packages of food to people and is doing the same for Hanukkah.
“The Bronx is a very poor neighborhood,” he explained. “My job every single day is not necessarily to teach the Torah, but to give people a smile.”
Pewzner recognizes this will be a tough holiday season for everyone, whether they celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanza. He hopes people are grateful for what they have and tell family they love them.
“We have a lot of blessings out there and we have to start counting them,” he explained.
Friday Dec. 18 is the last day of Hanukkah.