Hope Blecher
Hadassah Educators Council

How a Menorah in the Catskills Lights the Way for an Entire Community

The author with the Parksville, NY Community Menorah. Photo courtesy of the author.
The author with the Parksville, NY Community Menorah. Photo courtesy of the author.
The author with the menorah under construction. Photo courtesy of the author.
The menorah under construction. Photo courtesy of the author.

I know exactly where I will be in the hour prior to Havdalah this Saturday (December 17th) and that is exciting and nerve wracking. There are a few other emotions in the mix, too.

You are invited to keep reading for the story behind Parksville, NY’s First Annual Sunset Stroll and Menorah Lighting.

A year ago, it began. My husband and I attended the Holiday in Hurleyville celebration. This is a hamlet in Upstate New York. This was noteworthy because of a few firsts. It was our first time at this event. It was the public lighting of their new menorah. We felt the energy, the camaraderie, and the revelry of the holiday season in the air, the words, the facial expressions of attendees.

The mulling, the pondering, the seed was germinating. A week or so later, I attended another menorah lighting at the Shop Rite in Liberty, NY. This one had more people in attendance. This one had more of a lot of things. More people, more press, more cars, more height and width on the menorah. Just more.

Yet, at least for me, more was not what I needed. As a member of a local community group in the neighboring hamlet of Parksville, the pondering continued for a few more days. What was going on inside of my head? Ohh, well, here goes.

I had thoughts of antisemitism. There were thoughts about the kindness of strangers. What about the cost, the materials and the people power needed to make a cultural piece of art? Do I want to be part of this by even chatting to the town supervisor and others?

Throughout 2022, there were a few exploratory chats, some in person and the others virtual. Then, it happened. I was told, “Hope, go ahead.” What was I going ahead with? I had been given the green light to apply for a grant for the construction and installation of a public menorah.

That felt good. That felt scary. That felt supportive.

With blank paper and a few pencils, the lines went from my mental imagery onto the paper. With input from Ray, my carpenter hubby, dimensions were noted, and erasures occurred. Then, to the renderings on the laptop, which was thanks to the expertise of Colin, our son.

The call went to Van Morrow. I’d met him earlier in 2022 as I began my educational consulting business, His silk screening and embroidery work is known throughout the county. While I watched him work, we chatted. I learned a bit about his background in NYC; as our friendship grew, we invited him over for our Passover seder. It was his first outing since the passing of his partner, Bruce, BDE. Within my heart, this was an act of kindness, of friendship, of a mitzvot. Intellectually, there was a connection with Hadassah, in having a space to welcome people, to open our doors to learning, equality and equity of people who choose to identify as LGBTQ+.

Conversations, more suggestions, a drop of ohs and ahs and whys from Loren, our daughter, and then voices of support from other residents and a few hours of guidance from the grant committee. With the patience of the dynamic trio, Frank DeMayo, Nick Rusin, and Shannon Cilento, the Sullivan Renaissance Neighborhood Beautification application was completed.

Then the wait. That was not easy. What did I do in the meantime? I began to secure commitments. I chatted with a few people in the community. If we were awarded the grant, would they like to help fine tune the design? Were they interested in painting it? Help us go paint shopping?

The email finally came into my inbox. With a few minor adjustments, we were awarded the grant. Now, onto meetings to make the purchases and start construction. Oh, gosh, the Covid supply chain hit! Not to be thwarted and because there was a deadline, we were onto Plan B and making progress.

Progress felt good. What did it look like? People came over to paint a train, a castle, a deer, and a pharmacy. These wooden symbols were selected as community representations of Parksville, Liberty and Sullivan County, NY. Buzz went the saw. Splat went the paint. “Ahhhhh” was the response when we stood back to look at it. It grew from a few pieces of lumber and screws to nine feet of blue with nine glowing lights. It worked!

In case you are wondering about Judaic guidance, which was all part of this teamwork. There were calls and emails with the president of a local synagogue. There was a bit of research done 2022 style, online, and confirmation conversations with a rabbi. Thank you to Congregation Agudas Achim, in Livingston Manor, NY and Rabbi F. Pomerantz for your spiritual support.

Throughout this project, we would be engaging with, sharing with, learning with and teaching within our community. That began feeling scary and exciting. Scary due to the public arena and concerns about antisemitism. Would it happen here in our neck of the woods? Did we need security? What would that look like? The local president of the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce and I had an in-person chat. She shared a bit about her spiritual journey. She told me that if there was vandalism, they would not let it go. The Chamber had a commitment to defend and protect diversity and respect in the community.

Would people come out for this celebration? We had created an event. It became billed as The First Annual Parksville Sunset Stroll and Menorah Lighting. We did it.

Oh, wait, we needed an agenda for the day of the event. Who would speak first? What about music? Then we talked about lighting the Parksville Rail Trail and we talked about who would flip the switch for each night. More details, more purchases, and more collaborations. That felt good.

Good because people were showing support through their actions. Good because the event was being posted for the public. Yet, for me, success depended upon something not happening. If the menorah was installed in the public spot and it stood with no vandalism and withstood Mother Nature, then I would personally call it a remarkable success.

By the time you read this post, that determination will not be final, yet. I do hope it is a success. We have it built; we have it ready to raise. It is a work of art for the public. It represents the past, present, and future of Parksville. That spirit rises through the mountains and streams.

This project is what Hadassah is about. It is the can-do spirit coming to fruition. It is teaching and learning from and with each other, Jews, and non-Jews. It is about notifying the local clergy and police personnel, and it is bringing people together.

This is a story of how an idea came to life. Of the intersection of arts, spirituality and history, of the ways in which people say and show their intentions and actions.

This is Chanukah 2022, in a hamlet in the Lower Catskill Mountains of New York State. Yes, this is a story about me; this is a story about you, this is us, Hadassah.

Hadassah stands for Jewish values and traditions. Hadassah also stands up for women’s empowerment and leadership, and therefore strongly supports the role of Jewish woman as keepers of the flame of Jewish values, traditions and beliefs. I am proud to be a leader and member of a national organization with such a noble purpose.

About the Author
Dr. Hope Blecher, a member of the Hadassah Educators Council and the Hadassah Writers' Circle, has been working in the field of education for 37 years. Currently, she serves as an English as a Second Language teacher for an adult education program in NJ. Recently, she became the founder of Previously, Hope served in capacities from being the first Middle School Curriculum Coordinator and Humanities teacher for a yeshiva in Teaneck, NJ, to serving in public schools as the Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and the Supervisor of English Literacy, Social Studies and Media Services. Dr. Hope Blecher holds multiple standard NJDOE issued certifications that she has used by serving as an adjunct professor, a teacher of high school students with special needs, English Language Learners K-adult, and those in the elementary age level classrooms. Along with friends and colleagues, Hope co-authored educational books and articles. She earned a BA in Sociology, an MA in Early Childhood Education, and an Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership. She has been a member of Hadassah for over a decade, first in the Southern NJ chapter and currently in the Lower New York State chapter.
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