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Supply-chain crisis leads to near-shortage of menorahs on Long Island 

Rabbi Mendel Teldon holds a menorah surrounded by

Rabbi Mendel Teldon holds a menorah surrounded by boxes filled with more menorahs from China inside Chabad of Mid-Suffolk, on Wednesday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Solving a supply-chain crisis for oil took divine intervention some 2,200 years ago — the miracle Jews commemorate by lighting the Hanukkah menorah for eight nights, this year beginning Sunday.

In 2021, the global supply-chain logjam that started with the coronavirus pandemic and has caused shortages of exercise equipment, medicine, breakfast cereal and more led to a near-shortage of menorahs on Long Island.

Rabbi Mendel Teldon, of the Chabad of Mid-Suffolk, who distributes more than 1,500 free menorahs annually, was worried he’d have to skip this year’s giveaway of the menorah, Hebrew for "lamp," the candelabrum with a flame for every night.

His are manufactured in China and coordinated through the headquarters of Chabad, the global Hasidic outreach group that draws Jews of various levels of observance.

"They first promised it to us, like two to three weeks before the holiday," he said. "Then, as we’re getting closer, they sent out an email saying, ‘Oh, hold back, we’re having issues. It’s stuck at the port.'"

Teldon said that message was followed by another, stating, "'OK, we probably got it off the boat, now it’s gotta get to the warehouse.' Then, they gotta distribute it amongst their people, so we’re getting daily updates of how it was going."

Eventually, the menorahs, and the decorative boxes that hold them, arrived, but weeks later than expected and following a vendor switch, leading Teldon and volunteers scrambling to box them up and get them to homebound seniors, families and other recipients on the Island.

The supply-chain logjam could portend what’s to come for Christmastime, according to Timothy D. Lytton, a distinguished university professor at Georgia State University College of Law who studies kosher food logistics.

"Hanukkah-observant Jews are the first ones to feel this pinch, because it’s the first big holiday that’s being impacted," he said, "because Hanukkah comes so early this year."

He added: "This is like a forerunner for what people can expect for Christmas shopping. It’s like the canary in the coal mine."

Beyond Hanukkah, all sorts of Judaica items have been hit, including disruptions of mezuzahs, tefillin and honey for the Rosh Hashanah holiday, according to the Jewish Exponent of Philadelphia, a community newspaper.

Rabbi Motti Seligson, a Chabad headquarters spokesperson in Brooklyn, said some portion of the menorah orders — more than 700,000 are to be distributed this year — had been delayed by the global supply-chain issues.

A rabbi in Chicago sent a truck directly to the port to pick up the menorahs; another, in New Zealand, drove a truck himself to the airport to do the pickup, Seligson said.

"While we’ve all experienced limitations of the supply chain and other issues that we’re facing, we’ve done everything we could to overcome them," he said, "and despite those challenges, bring the warmth of Hanukkah and the message of Hanukkah to whomever we can."

It’s not just the tabletop menorahs whose shipment was affected, but also the big ones for town squares, shopping malls, office buildings, synagogues, parks, homes, and automobile rooftops, according to Rabbi Boruch Klar, who sells them on his website, menorah.net.

"It’s the same story with everybody. The problem is that there was no containers to get, and no ship to take them, and then there’s hundreds of them backed up in California on the dock," Klar said.

His customers are from around the world and from Long Island locations including Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Great Neck, Islip, Roslyn Heights and Dix Hills.

Shipping costs from China went up — by about $45,000 — so he raised the prices of his big menorahs by $100 each, he said. A 12-foot, indoor-outdoor display menorah rose in price this year, to $1,999, for example.

Those menorahs, made of aluminum, steel and electric wires, are imported from China after being manufactured in the southern city of Guangzhou, said Tom Chan, the vice president overseeing engineering and sales for Sunrise Industries, Klar’s vendor.

From there, they go to the port of Yantian, Shenzhen, to New York, and onward to New Jersey.

This year, at the beginning of the pipeline, the company faced cost increases for material, power shortages, long lead times for shipping and high transportation costs, he said.

Those same sorts of shortages caused the logjam of Teldon’s menorahs, bound for his Chabad center, which is in Commack on Veterans Memorial Highway.

But after calls and emails and some trepidation, the menorahs arrived and were still being delivered the weekend of Hanukkah with the help of 50 volunteers driving around the Island, including to Commack, East Northport, Hauppauge, Kings Park, Northport, Fort Salonga, and Smithtown.

"That’s so the story of Hanukkah," he said, drawing comparisons to the holiday's origins: Hanukkah celebrates how a small, outnumbered army of Jews, known as the Maccabees, defeated the Ancient Greeks, who occupied Israel some 2,200 years ago and sought to impose a Hellenistic lifestyle. Upon victory, according to tradition, the Jews found only enough holy oil to fuel the menorah in the temple for a day. But the oil burned for eight days and nights.

"Yes, there’s opposition. Yes, it seemed impossible to get 1,500 menorahs out in four days," Teldon said.

The rabbi invoked the hero of the Hanukkah story: "It was a Judah the Maccabee moment ... We’re not looking for excuses. We’re not looking to back out. It’s about getting it done."

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