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Island Park businessman who erected menorah 40 years ago honored

Peter Ross, left, takes a photo Sunday evening

Peter Ross, left, takes a photo Sunday evening before a ceremony honoring his father Bernard Ross is held as the menorah on the Island Park Village Green is lit on the first night of Hanukkah. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Bitter winter winds, snow and freezing rain never kept Bernard Ross from lighting the 10-foot menorah he had worked so hard to bring to Island Park in 1979.

Forty years later, his family and friends honored the affable jewelry designer and manufacturer who lovingly tended to the menorah every Hanukkah for 20 years with a plaque that recognizes his efforts.

Ross died in 2016 at the age of 95 on the first day of Hanukkah.

“He thought it was important,” his son, Peter Ross, 71, said after the menorah lighting on Sunday night, the first day of Hanukkah. “He felt very strongly that the village should have a religious menorah.”

Bernard Ross moved his family from Brooklyn to Island Park in the 1954, and eventually centered his business there as well. An active member of the Jewish Center of Island Park, now known as the South Shore Jewish Center. He was determined to have a menorah in a public space for Hanukkah, just as a nativity scene was there to celebrate Christmas.

He launched an effort to raise funds from other local merchants to have a menorah constructed and then placed on the Village Green on Long Beach Road every holiday season.

“It was difficult,” said Erwin Goldenberg, 90, a friend of Ross. “Some people didn’t want to donate anything. But he got it done and we’ve been grateful ever since.”

The money Ross raised paid for the materials and local company Comparative Designs built the menorah for free. The first public lighting took place in 1979.

Every year, he would walk from his nearby business to unlock an electrical box and manually flip a switch. He continued that annual tradition until he retired and moved to Florida about 20 years later, according to his family. Other members of the temple have taken over his duties. 

“I hope he was watching today and I think he would find it phenomenal 40 years later he was being honored,” said his younger son Steven Ross, 65, who traveled from Massachusetts for the ceremony.

The eight-day holiday celebrates the successful revolt of the Maccabees in 160 B.C. and rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  According to the tradition, there was only enough oil to keep a lamp in the temple lighted for one day, but the lamp burned for eight days.

Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah by lighting one candle of a menorah each day for eight days. The ninth candle in the center is called the shamash.

“He would light up the room because of his kindness to other people,” Peter Ross said of his father. “And I realized the way the first candle, the shamash, lights up the other candles and lights the menorah, that was basically his personality that he would go in and light up other people with warmth and kindness. So the menorah is really symbolic of him and his personality and the holiday of Hanukkah.”

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