A Festival of Lights for Lew

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 The lights must go on. Although Lew Simon, a big supporter for the Beach 116th Street menorah lighting, is no longer with us, Liz Hanna and Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato made sure this community tradition continued, in his memory.

On the second night of Hanukkah, Monday, November 29, a crowd gathered around the menorah to enjoy a night of music, community and light, and to remember Lew. “We are here tonight to light our candles for the second night of Hanukkah but also we’re here tonight in memory of our friend Lew Simon, who normally would be here giving out a lot of orders for this tradition on Beach 116th Street,” Pheffer Amato said before introducing Hanna as “a machine, an unbelievable force in this community, who really would not let this tradition go, who immediately said we have to continue what we’ve always done even though Lew has moved on.”

Hanna said she was channeling her “inner Lew” through the process of making the menorah lighting possible. She explained she faced some obstacles, including initially installing the menorah upside down and not having electricity, but Peak Electric came to the rescue to ensure the lights would go on. “This is our first rodeo without Lew. He was the man behind the scenes that got all of the organizations and the rabbis together. I just did the heavy work,” she said.

But together, the ladies got it done. The night was made even better with a table full of goodies from jelly donuts and hot coffee donated by West End Temple, festive headbands, menorah ornaments, Madelaine’s chocolate gelt, a memorial card for Lew Simon and even Hanukkah cake pops to give away with the help of Lew’s friend, Joe Caruana from Ozone Park.

Pheffer Amato explained the importance of keeping this tradition alive. “One thing in the Jewish religion that we’re big on is traditions and I think that’s what’s important about our community, that we keep our traditions going. And the Beach 116th menorah lighting has become a tradition of the season and I felt it was a calling and Lew was kicking me in the butt and we felt it was important to keep this tradition going and we’ll keep it growing,” she said. “We’ve had several memorials and we’ve been talking about Lew in the community and in the Jewish religion, we say may their memory always be a blessing. The more we talk about Lew, the more that keeps that memory alive.”

Other elected officials were also at the celebration including Senator Joe Addabbo, who said, “There’s an emptiness here. There’s a void and that is Lew. The lights of Hanukkah, may they shine for a brighter 2022, brighter than what we’ve had in the last couple years, as a sign for hope, optimism and peace and love.” Councilman Eric Ulrich and his soon-to-be replacement, Councilwoman-elect Joann Ariola also shared a few words. “When we light these candles, we are making the world a better place. So these lights should shine brightly and we say our prayers when we light each candle. We pray for the safety, the security of the Jewish people not only in New York and Israel, but around the world,” Ulrich said.

The tradition of the menorah lighting was originally led by the late Noni Signoretti, Hanna’s cousin and partner at the former Brown’s Hardware. When Noni died in 2015, Liz and Lew picked up the tradition in her memory. “Lew was very insistent this be dedicated to Noni and now Lew and Noni are up there laughing at us trying to get this together. This was dedicated to Noni and now it’s dedicated to both of them,” Hanna said, unveiling plaques with both of their names on the large menorah.

Rabbi Matt Carl of Temple Beth-El and Rabbi Rebecca Epstein of West End Temple also shared a few words. Rabbi Carl explained he met Lew Simon for the first time at the 2019 menorah lighting. He also explained the number one rule for a menorah. “It can’t look like one fire. Each of the candles has to look separate. It teaches us an important thing at this time of year. When we bring light into the world, we’re bringing light into darkness. If you only saw the light, it wouldn’t be Hanukkah. It’s Hanukkah because you see the light but there’s darkness also. Life is about bringing little bits of light every moment into the darkness,” Rabbi Carl said. “As we enter this season of darkness and cold, I hope we continue to have our own lights lit and our warmth increased from the light of the menorah and the light of one another and this community that we love so much, that Lew loved so much.” Rabbi Epstein followed, sharing a charming tale about how the community of Chelm in Poland celebrated one snowy Hanukkah, by working together to make their menorah lighting possible.

As Cantor Jeffrey Wolk played songs on guitar, Rabbis Carl and Epstein pushed the buttons on the large menorah, illuminating the candles representing the first two nights of Hanukkah. In the spirit of togetherness, Pastor Garry Patrylo and his wife, of House on the Rock church, sang a rendition of “The Blessing.”

Before the crowd dispersed, Hanna announced the next tradition that Lew loved—the Beach 116th Christmas tree lighting—will take place on Wednesday, December 8 at 4 p.m., and she shared some words Lew used to end with. “At the end of every conversation I had with him, was ‘Love and appreciate you,’ so that’s what we all need to remember,” Hanna said.

By Katie McFadden

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