Chanukah began earlier than usual this year, but the Jewish community of Coney Island was more than prepared to start the holiday. On November 27, the Warbasse Jewish Heritage Congregation unveiled its brand new menorah and the first light was kindled outside the Warbasse Shopping Center at Neptune Avenue and West Fifth Street.
“It went beautifully despite rainy weather. There was a great turnout. We distributed over 200 of the traditional Chanukah doughnuts,” said Rabbi David Okunov, the congregation’s spiritual leader.
Over 100 people were in attendance, including Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and 93-year-old Holocaust survivor Jack Eisenstein, who was given the honor of kindling the first light of the state-of-the-art 22-foot, 1,000-pound Menorah, which cost $18,000 to build.
“He’s a very unique, special individual despite what he has endured in his lifetime,” Okunov said of Eisenstein. “He remains upbeat and he deserves our respect and this is one of the small things we can do for him. His father was a rabbi. When he was younger, he led services in synagogue.”
Also in attendance were U.S. Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries, Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny, State Senator Diane Savino and Councilmember-elect Mark Treyger.
The menorah stands as a symbol of how far along the synagogue has come in two short years.
“There’s a very strong feeling of pride and accomplishment. People feel strongly about it because a couple of years ago, the synagogue was on the verge of collapse. It was going to close down,” said Okunov.
Okunov joined the congregation in September, 2011. Since then, they have celebrated the grand re-opening of their shul, which underwent an extensive renovation, led by Warbasse Jewish Heritage Congregation President Boris Shnayderman, who also led the building of the menorah.
Shnayderman was proud to see his plans of a revived congregation come to fruition and hopes to maintain the community pride beyond this year. “The outdoor menorah celebration will become an annual tradition and open to the public,” he said.
“The menorah is a symbol of liberty and life,” added Okunov. “And when people see the menorah, they feel proud of their heritage and proud to belong. It serves as testimony to the great potential that exists amongst the young Jewish population of our community. “