A Light At The End of The Tunnel

by R. Wineberg - HOBOKEN, NJ

November 26, 2002

Commuters passing through the Holland Tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey every day will soon be noticing a new sign of the season at the tunnel’s New Jersey entrance, on the outskirts of Hoboken: A twelve-foot electric menorah, brightly lit, with a large sign wishing drivers a Happy Chanukah from Chabad of Hoboken. Erected in a parking lot alongside the entrance to the tunnel, the menorah is expected to attract the attention of some one-million viewers daily.

The menorah’s highly visible location was the brainchild of Rabbi and Mrs. Moshe Shapiro of Hoboken, conceived last year while the couple was living in New York, before their move to Hoboken. Feverish efforts before the onset of the holiday last year saw rewarding results: reactions to the menorah were overwhelmingly enthusiastic, so much so that despite initial reservations, the Port Authority of New Jersey granted Chabad full permission to erect the menorah once again this year and will even be supplying the electricity to keep it lit.

The Shapiros had come to Hoboken to conduct Rosh Hashana services in September 2001. Several days later, this town, all of only one square mile on the Hudson River, facing lower Manhattan, and nearly all the town’s residents were in one way or another, personally affected by the 9/11 attacks. Nearly all of the town’s residents commute to Manhattan each day and so the tragedy hit really close to home. “People were looking for spirituality that Rosh Hashanah, to make some sense of their world that had just been turned upside down,” says Rabbi Shapiro. More than 150 people joined Chabad for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many of whom have come back often to attend Chabad’s ever-increasing range of programs for the community.

A busy industrial zone until about 1970, Hoboken has since become a residential hub for affluent yuppies and students looking for a little distance from the city and lower housing costs. Urban and hip, but with a small town feel, Hoboken has over 50,000 residents, an estimated 4500 of whom are Jewish. In their months here, the Shapiro’s have been making efforts to meet up with many of the town’s Jewish residents and often have them over for Shabbat dinners. “There is strong potential for a vibrant Jewish community in Hoboken,” says Mrs. Shaindel Schapiro. Currently, Jews from Hoboken traveled to nearby Newport or Jersey City to attend services or Jewish programs. Since Chabad’s arrival here last March, the level of Jewish activity in the town itself has risen considerably. Community programs for every holiday, Shabbat services and dinners, and individual and group learning sessions are slowly creating a Jewish reality in the area.

And now, in the Chabad tradition of placing menorahs in the most visible spot possible for Chanukah, Jewish awareness for Hoboken residents, or those just passing through on their daily commute, reaches an all-time high. “Next to all the other symbols of the season, Chabad’s Chanukah menorah is a source of Jewish pride for so many who see it each day,” says Rabbi Shapiro.

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