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“The story of what’s going on there – the rededication and re-sanctification of these communities, there’s definitely a correlation” with Chanukah, Bernstein said.
Bernstein contacted the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, a group he was familiar with from his Bloomberg days and which he admired for working with both Jewish and non-Jewish communities. That led him, in turn, to Temple Israel, established in 1920.
The seven-foot brass menorah is one of a pair dating from at least the building’s 1923 construction, said Rabbi David Bauman, interviewed as he ferried the menorah to Washington for the party. They were spared because they were on an upper floor.
Bauman said he at first didn’t believe the White House was on the line. When he understood it was for real, he said, it was like a ray of light.
He recalled Psalm 30, associated with the dedication of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem: “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
Bauman said he hoped the Chanukah party would garner attention not only for the synagogue, but for his neighbors.
“The region and my synagogue’s devastation with Hurricane Sandy, has been incredibly dark,” he said. “Coming to the White House is not only an honor for us but for the entire region.”
Bauman, 41 and a reserve chaplain in the U.S. Marines, leads a nondenominational shul that he describes as “Conservadox” with both separate and mixed seating. There is also a beit midrash; much of the damage was to holy books and Torah scrolls.
The damage, he said, totaled $5 million, and insurance covered just a fraction of that. Moreover, his institution – like other houses of worship – are not necessarily entitled to the federal recovery money because of religion-state separation.
“Hopefully, this will be a way for us to get the story out and raise some money to rebuild,” he said.