Chanukah at Woodford Forest US
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Thursday 2nd January 2020

From the time Rabbi & Rebbetzen Wollenberg arrived in Woodford in August 2015, members of the community would ask every year “when are we getting a Menorah in Woodford”?  All the other communities around hosted public menorahs, and Woodford was the last place with significant Jewish population not to have.

This year finally Woodford residents got their Menorah in the form of a one-off event on the last night of Chanukah, attended by several hundred locals, members of Woodford Forest United Synagogue and supporters from further afield of all ages.  A large delegation from the local JBD homes made it.  Waitrose kindly opened their car park for patrons.

The event was organised jointly by the local United Synagogue and Chabad organisations and the Office of the Chief Rabbi Centre for Community Excellence.

A large menorah was set up on the High Road overlooking the A406, a very busy spot. Music was cued, VIP guests invited, holographic glasses procured, and doughnuts and hot chocolate were dished out in the hundreds.

The event was particularly poignant coming just hours after news of the tragedy in Monsey where attendees at a Chanukah party were viciously attacked and the shocking antisemitic graffiti at South Hampstead Shul and other locations.  Prayers were said for the injured in Monsey and the theme of Jewish pride, light and the power of light were a focus of the speeches.

The Mayor of Redbridge and several local councillors were present.  They were thanked for all their support and encouragement, and they have already raised the issue of a permanent Menorah for next year.

Rabbi Wollenberg commented “I remember a time when people were afraid to be Jewish in public.  With all of the uncertainty in our own society, and particularly with what happened in Monsey, it was amazing to stand together with hundreds of Jewish people celebrating Chanukah with pride and joy and unafraid to express their Judaism in public, with the support and active encouragement of the civic leadership of the Borough. 

The event passed without incident which was unsurprising given that Woodford is a leafy, quiet suburb which enjoys excellent relationships between local communities.

A huge thank you went to Chabad of NE London & Essex led by Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin MBE and Rabbi Odom Brandman and their dedicated team who put hours of time in to the seven public menorah lightings around Redbridge, Woodford being the last and the newest.

After the event several hundred revellers came back to Woodford Forest Shul where they were given hot food, a magician, a giant Lego menorah and kids arts and crafts.

The event succeeded way beyond anyone’s expectations.  Now the task is to start planning a permanent Menorah for next year to go on the same spot with an even bigger celebration of Jewish life!

By Alan Ezekiel