Beacon's Hannukah Honors Community

Dec 23, 2014

Credit Courtesy of Donna Mikkelsen

Tonight is the last night of the second year of Beacon’s Hannukah celebration, honoring different sectors of the community each night. The celebration is held at the corner of a busy intersection, and this year the rabbi had an added activity – a trip to the White House.

Beacon Hebrew Alliance and BeaconArts teamed up to celebrate Illumin8tion: Lighting Up Our Community for Eight Nights of Hannukah at the Beacon bicycle menorah. The candles are bicycle wheels, strung with lights. Brent Spodek is Rabbi of Beacon Hebrew Alliance.

“Part of what makes Beacon and the whole mid-Hudson area, but Beacon in particular, part of what makes it so special is so many people being willing to give it a shot, say alright, let’s try this, let’s see what we can do. With what little bit we’ve got, let’s see what we can make happen,” says Spodek. “And so we, what we’ve done here is every night we honor different groups of people who illuminate the community, and we call it illumin8te, we spell it with the numeral 8 in the word illumin8te, for the eight nights of the holiday, to honor the different groups of people who light up our community, who are willing to say, let’s give it a shot. Who knows what’ll happen in our little situation, but let’s give it a shot.”

A different sector of the community is honored each night, from environmental stewards to artists and musicians to business owners. The third night honored public servants, including Mayor Randy Casale.

“I think it’s great. It brings the community together,” Casale says. “It brings… the Christmas tree and menorah down here, it just brings the whole community together.”

Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne

It has been an exceptionally busy Hannukah season for Spodek, who attended the White House Hannukah reception December 17.

“Why I was invited, I’m honestly not sure. I keep having the feeling that somewhere out there there’s another much more important Rabbi Brent Spodek who’s sitting there being like, ‘wait a minute, ‘why aren’t I there?’”

The humble Spodek says a colleague had a hand in the invitation, recognizing the revitalization of the Jewish community in Beacon.

“The night before Thanksgiving I got an e-mail that I thought was a very well-tailored hoax because it was from Hannukah@whitehouse.gov,” Spodek says. “And I thought, this has got to be, this has got to be where they, at the end of it, they ask me to send $1 million to a Nigerian bank account.”

Spodek tells of one of the night’s highlights. He says he met President Obama:

“…and shouted to Michelle Obama that, Mrs. Obama, the City of Beacon, New York, sends its love,” Spodek says. “And she patted her heart and blew me a kiss which to say made my day would be putting it mildly.”

It’s the second year for the bicycle menorah, which stands just feet from the bicycle Christmas tree, in its fourth year. Both are the idea and work of sculptor Ed Benavente, using recycled bicycle parts and other materials.

“A bicycle is a vehicle that’s powered by people. So I decided that it’s a natural metaphor for the town, which is powered by people, and people make it go, and with every turn of the wheel, every revolution, you’re in a new place,” Benavente says. “So you keep turning and turning and you’re going to get to where you’re going, and it always changes. And so it’s that infinite circle of life, so to speak.”

Meanwhile, Spodek brought a miniature replica of the Beacon bicycle menorah that Benavente crafted to the White House.

“And we wrote this letter to the president telling him about what the Beacon bicycle menorah is and why we care about it and what this town is about and a real spirit of cooperation inspired by Pete Seeger and carried on in a lot of different ways and signed it and put it in a box with a miniature bicycle menorah that God willing the president will receive and at least for a moment think of Beacon, New York,” Spodek says.

Tonight’s honorees are clergy members. Spodek says the final night of Hannukah is a fitting tribute to the late legendary folk singer and Beacon resident Pete Seeger, who had urged the faith leaders in the community to come together.

“Pete had this famous line when people accused him of being a Communist, he said that, ‘McCarthy thinks he’s a conservative because he wants to go back in time 20 years; I want to go back in time 100 years when people lived in small villages and knew their neighbors and cared for each other,’” says Spodek. “And for me at least, and I think for many of my fellow clergy in town, there’s a real sense of we want to help build a community where we know each other and care about each other and come and celebrate… I’m very excited that, and I think it will be a testament to Pete, that on the last night of Hannukah right before Christmas the group that we’ll be honoring is the clergy.”