Many people are aware of my proud affiliation with the outreach organization Oorah. Since its inception in the 1970s, I’ve had, in a very humble way, a connection to the holy kiruv work of Rav Chaim Mintz, shlit”a, the mashgiach of the Yeshiva of Staten Island.
I’d like to share with you an Oorah story that dates back to the ‘70s that changed my appreciation of the menorah’s power. Before doing so, however, let me raise a question that many people might ask: What can a small menorah placed in a window really accomplish? It seems totally dwarfed by superior lights all around it.
Now let me share with you a true Oorah anecdote. I once went out with Rabbi Mintz in a car on Chanukah on one of his quests to find Jewish children who were not yet privileged to be in yeshiva. Rabbi Mintz would drive the car almost aimlessly looking in uncharted territory for a Jewish home ripe for his overtures of kindness and inspiration.
Now, Staten Island in the 1970s was quite different than it is today. There was no West Shore Expressway and a mere decade after the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was built, there was no Staten Island Mall. Rather, in its place were a few fruit stalls. I remember when my father, of blessed memory, drove me to yeshiva, he would stop out there to buy fresh corn.
So, how, might you ask, in the middle of Italian neighborhoods would Rav Mintz be able to ferret out Jewish families? This was his secret: He went out on Chanukah! He would put up his “periscope” and hunt for a menorah in the windows of homes.
When he would joyfully spot one, he would park the car and, armed with beautifully gift-wrapped toys, he would ring the bell. Now, I’m talking about state-of-the-art gifts. I remember that somehow he had Cabbage Patch dolls when they were on back order for two months. He had Space Invader technology when that was the rage of the day.
When the parents would come to the door, he would wish them a Happy Chanukah and ask if they had a young child. If they said “yes,” he would ask whether he could please come inside to give the child a Chanukah toy. Who could resist such an offer?
When the child would gleefully open the gift, the stage was set and Rabbi Mintz would pop the question to the parents, “Where does your child go to school?” When they answered, “Public school,” he would ask in amazement, “Why don’t you send your child to yeshiva because, after all, that’s where a Jewish child belongs?”
Inevitably, they would say they couldn’t afford it, and he would offer them financial assistance on the spot.
That’s how Oorah was born. Today, it has multitudes of children in over 80 yeshivahs and wonderful camps for boys and girls. But to me, there is an amazing Chanukah lesson here. If you own a Cadillac, you can enroll in the OnStar System. If the car gets stolen, it sends out a signal so that the police can trace it and zoom in on the missing car. For Rabbi Mintz, the menorah acted like an ancient Onstar System, sending out a signal like a beacon, helping him zoom in on lost Jews to help to bring them back to the traditions of their ancestors.
The menorah’s flimsy wicks and small reservoirs of oil pack an awesome power as they represent the spiritual salvation of our Jewish ancestors from the ancient Syrian-Greeks and the threats of Hellenization and assimilation. The wondrous menorah, 2,000 years later, is still diligently fulfilling its task of rescuing precious Jewish souls.
Anyone who wishes to be a part of the Oorah family can call the Oorah hotline at 732-730-1000 and join one of its very fulfilling programs. Perhaps you would also like to knock on the door of a home that has a menorah in the window. Perhaps you would like to adopt an Oorah family, becoming its Jewish spiritual mentor. Perhaps you would like to take part in an Oorah Shabbaton. If you would like to help finance Oorah, then 877-7-AUCTION is the number you want.
May the glorious mitzvah of the Chanukah menorah, together with the awesome zechus of Oorah, help us be blessed with a healthy, happy, wonderful, and Covid-19 safe winter.