WESTFIELD, NJ — Firefighter Tom Bottini had an unusual, albeit important, assignment.
Perched atop a fire ladder truck that might typically position a hose above a burning building, the firefighter instead delivered chocolate coins — known as Hanukkah gelt — to some 200 people gathered for a menorah lighting at the Westfield Train Station Sunday night, the first night of the eight-night Jewish holiday.
State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., a resident of Westfield, had just lit the large menorah’s shamash, or center light, while councilman-elect Scott Katz lit the first candle of the massive candelabra. The menorah lighting has been a tradition in Westfield for some 20 years, Rabbi Levi Block, director of Union County Torah Center — Chabad, told those gathered. It was, however, both the first year the event gained the attention of a state senator and the first time the local Chabad center attempted a gelt drop.
“There’s a lot of darkness in the world, unfortunately, a lot of hatred. The light represents kindness and goodness, and a little kindness and goodness dispels a lot of darkness the same way small candle lights up a big dark, large room,” Block said, speaking to the symbolism of the menorah lights.
Councilman David Contract spoke in the place of the mayor, who was away in Florida. Flanked by Councilwoman Dawn Mackey, Contract noted the holiday’s celebration of the success of small army, who in 3621 fought for Jews' religious freedoms under the oppressive rule of Antiochus III.
“To me it's about the idea that a small group of people can make a big difference,” Contract said. “That’s what I think we should all take away from Hanukkah. To me that’s the most important thing: that every single person can make a difference in society.”
While Contract conveyed his message to the audience, most eyes were fixed on the firefighter perched above, who tossed 125 small bags of chocolate gelt and 50 miniature plastic menorahs on parachutes to those gathered.
“It was wonderful,” said resident Cayley Arbitsman, who was in attendance with her two daughters ages 1 and 4. “I loved all of the music and the fire truck dropping all of the chocolate and the menorahs. It was very exciting. The kids loved it.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at firstname.lastname@example.org; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh