BEVERLY ‒ On the sixth day of Hanukkah, Rabbi Sruli Baron hopped into a rented gray pickup truck and began to drive. In the bed of the truck stood a 6-foot-high menorah that Baron had constructed in his Everett shul with an electric saw, some 2-by-4s, silver paint, and nine round lights ‒ one for each of the eight nights and a shamash.
Baron, the rabbi who oversees Tobin Bridge Chabad, called the rented pickup with the towering candelabra the Menorah Mobile. During Hanukkah, he drove it up and down the coast and into places like Chelsea, Malden, and East Boston, which ring the Mystic River. On each day of the holiday, he averaged about 15 trips to different neighborhoods.
On each visit, Baron parked the Menorah Mobile outside of a person’s home, and then held a brief schmoozefest about Hanukkah and the need for light in people’s lives during the winter. He then handed out a fancy blue bag that contained a silver aluminum menorah, 44 candles, a plastic blue dreidel, a couple of kosher doughnuts, some chocolate gold-coined Hanukkah gelt, and a Hanukkah handbook. “We call it Hanukkah in a Box,” he said.
By late morning, Baron was driving the Menorah Mobile north on Route 95. “It’s great. I was getting honks and waves,” said Baron, who made his way to Beverly and lumbered through the downtown before maneuvering the Menorah Mobile up a steep hill, where he parked in the driveway of Daniel Goldberg.
“Happy Hanukkah!” said Goldberg as he approached Baron in the shadow of the Menorah Mobile. Baron had mentioned that he would be in the neighborhood that morning and Goldberg was eager to meet. Baron handed Goldberg his own “Hanukkah in a Box,” and the two began to talk about the holiday.
For Goldberg, Hanukkah and the concept of bringing light into the world is a year-round endeavor. Goldberg, who is 38 and works as a social worker and a therapist at the Berklee College of Music, has a menorah dangling from his car’s rear view mirror. He also has a Star of David inserted into the hood of his Honda, a sticker of the Israeli flag on his trunk, and a license plate that reads “SHLEPN.”
The plate is short for the Yiddish word schlepping, and Goldberg believes humor and light and all of his car’s Jewish emblems create a brighter day. “I think we can all use a little bit of humor when we’re all on the road. It reminds me that I’m proud to be Jewish and I like to represent my culture no matter where I’m going,” said Goldberg, who has shoulder-length blonde hair, and has lived on the same set of blocks in Beverly his whole life.
Baron, who has lived in Chelsea since his arrival in the Boston area in 2017, spends much of his time reaching out to millennials and baby boomers in places that once had thriving Jewish communities like Chelsea, Everett, Malden, and Revere. He is also no rookie when it comes to bringing Judaism to the masses during holidays. For Sukkot this year, he fashioned a mini-Sukkah onto the back of a pickup truck and brought along a lulav and etrog so people could say the proper blessings after they climbed into the truck and stood in the Sukkah.
At the Hanukkah meetup in Beverly, Goldberg and Baron were focused on the meaning of light during the holiday. “I think light is the soul and it’s also what the soul needs,” said Baron. “We always need to reconnect with the light in the world and within our own lives and within ourselves, no matter the darkness that we’re going through. Obviously it’s been a really dark year for everybody, especially right now, so we have to do what we can ‒ even if it’s just a menorah from a distance, or a candle-lighting on Zoom. Whatever it is, we have to do what we can to spread some warmth and light.”
“Amen,” said Goldberg, and the two continued their conversation for another minute before waving goodbye. Baron had a busy day ahead of him ‒ at least another 12 stops to go before he would have a chance to light his own menorah back home in Chelsea with his wife, Chaya, and their children. He hopped back into the Menorah Mobile, and carefully began his descent down the hill and back into downtown Beverly as the lights of the menorah glistened on the old city streets.
Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com.