Newly partnered congregations celebrate Hanukkah

Cantor Simcha Steinberg from Ohel Chabad Lubavitch of

Cantor Simcha Steinberg from Ohel Chabad Lubavitch of Elmont lights the menorah with members of the Elmont Jewish Center. The two groups formally recoginzed a new partnership as the center has seen a drop in membership and Chabad has been there to help affect changes to make the center healthier. (Credit: Steven Sunshine)

The story of Hanukkah served as a fitting backdrop Sunday to the newly official partnership between two congregations that celebrated the Jewish holiday together in Elmont.

Men with the Orthodox Ohel Chabad Lubavitch Center in Cambria Heights, Queens, wearing dark suits and wide-brimmed hats, joined members of the Elmont Jewish Center in a menorah-lighting ceremony.

"Now, we begin a new era," Rabbi Chaim Blachman of the Elmont Jewish Center said. "We make it livelier and we spread more light in Elmont."

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Young Chabad-Lubavitch men danced as members of the Elmont Jewish Center, an older group dressed less conservatively, clapped along. Both groups sang in Hebrew and later shared a meal.

Hanukkah, according to Jewish tradition, commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after a victory over Syrian-Greek soldiers in the second-century Before the Common Era.

The Elmont Jewish Center has also been rededicated in a manner. The synagogue is now cared for and financed by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

The Elmont center, founded more than 60 years ago, numbered about 1,200 members at its peak, but is now at about 50.

Nearly all congregants are older than 60; some are in their 90s. Their children have moved away from the area, they said.

Chabad-Lubavitch members have for years lent manpower to care for the center.

Sunday, their energetic singing and dancing seemed to lift Elmont members.

"They bring life," said Eileen Levine, 81, of Elmont, who called herself "one of the younger ones."

Blachman had been visiting the center for about 18 years before he became a leader there three years ago.

"We developed a storied relationship," Blachman said.

Rabbi Abba Refson of Ohel Chabad Lubavitch said he respects the Elmont center as one of the area's oldest synagogues.

"We're helping to revive it," he said. "We wanted to inject some young blood into it."

Elmont center trustee Sandi Gerson said she was deeply appreciative of the partnership. "They've been here in rain and snow and 90-degree weather."

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