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A Great Miracle Happened Here

When I lived in Jerusalem, after sitting by the Chanukah candles I lit in my own apartment, it was a special pleasure to wend my way through the narrow and beautiful illuminated streets in my neighbrohood — and beyond. The flames flickered from every window, and often, encased in little glass boxes alongside the streets themselves, in front of the buildings that dotted the streets.

Framed by the windows, I would see different people gather to light the Menorah. Once, it was a wrinkled up couple, a  husband and wife. How many Chanukah’s and through what vicissitudes, had they lit the Menorah together? I wondered. Another time, it was a bride and her groom.

Sometimes, I would happen upon, literally crossing paths, with  a family or random people in the midst of their outdoor Chanukah menorah lighting and Maoz Tzur singing. These were sweet sightings.

You just never knew who you would come across. One night I remember a group of IDF soldiers lighting together. Another time, an American student program from abroad.

I remember once grocery shopping, the twilight  time slipping my mind, when suddenly on the supermarket loudspeaker I heard a voice announce, “Everyone is invited to the front of the store for candle lighting and sufganiyot.

Often, there were wonderful moments of Chanukah lighting surprises, both indoors, but especially out of doors.

About five years ago, I heard about an elderly Holocaust survivor who hung up a large sign with the famous acronym of the dreidel letters, spelled out in full, outside of his apartment, “Nes Gadol Haya Po” — A Great Miracle Occurred Here.”

This survivor was from the famed Emanuel family. He and some of his family survived Bergen Belsen and an altogether harrowing journey of suffering. When I was a child, the family were the owners of Optika Emanuel on King George Street. At the time, I didn’t realize I was facing heroes when we went there for eyeglasses.

The Emanuel family’s story is chronicled in a book in Hebrew titled Yesupar L’Dor, and translated into English as Dignity to Survive: One Family’s Story of Faith in The Holocaust by Yona Emanuel, originally of Germany and Holland, and later of Zephania Street in Jerusalem.

Today, the name Emanuel is associated with the famed Judaica artist. Many of us might inaugurate our Shabbat dinner by chanting the blessing over the Kiddush ritual with a modern and colorful Emanuel kiddush goblet, or bid farewell to Shabbat by using an Emanuel spice box, when parting from Shabbat with the Havdalah candle service.

I’m not sure which of the Emanuel brothers dwells at 18 Yehoshua Bin Nun Street, but ever since a friend of mine told me of his outdoor Chanukah candle lightings, I’ve dreamed of joining him outside his home, on the sidewalk, lighting Chanukah candles together with him, answering amen to his blessing, and singing Maoz Tzur together with this survivor whose mere presence is an expression and declaration of light triumphing over darkness.

This Mr. or Dr. Emanuel — one of the members of the Emanuel family went on to become a noted professor — invites neighbors, along with random passersby, to come join him in his kindling of the Chanukah lights. Everyone is more than glad and honored to join, be they neighbors from close by, or strangers from far away.

This man’s Chanukah lightings have become a legend in Jerusalem. A violinist or flautist, might show up impromptu, musically accompanying the singing.

<em>Nes Gadol Haya Po, A Great Miracle Occurred Here. 
 This is the theme at 18 Yehoshua Bin Nun Street in Jerusalem. On Chanukah, this 92-year-old Holocaust survivor, entwines his personal miracle together with the miracle the Jewish people experienced so long ago.

In the cattle car on the way to Auschwitz, this elderly man of today, then only a little boy, saw his beloved mother die before his very eyes.

In the cattle car on the way to Auschwitz, this elderly man of today, then only a little boy, witnessed how his father kept track of Shabbat, and on Friday at sunset, in the cattle car, announced, “It’s Shabbos!” as he proceeded to lead his family — eight children — in the Sabbath prayer service.

The inspirational stories of this legendary Emanuel family, today a tribe, are heart-breakingly riveting.

And one of their miracles, still today, illuminates one of the Jerusalem Chanukah streets that are bathed in kindled light.

For years, he dreamed of a unique menorah, that like a merry-go-round, would turn, spreading the story of his personal miracle of survival.

Finally, a few years ago, one of the Emanuel grandsons, after toiling for months with scraps of metal, created just such a custom menorah, granting his grandfather’s wish.

And it is alongside this whimsical and unique turning menorah gliding above the heads of these impromptu groups of people who congregate in the nipping cold to kindle the menorah together with a 92-year-old Holocaust surviving Jew, outside of his home, under his sign: Nes Gadol Haya Po, that miracles of Chanukah are still alive to tell their story in the streets of Jerusalem of today.

Copyright © 2021 by the Intermountain Jewish News

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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