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Menorah one-upsmanship strikes Brooklyn

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Only in Brooklyn could the borough’s “largest public menorah” actually be three feet shorter than another menorah a few miles away.

And only in Brooklyn could the taller menorah bill itself as “Brooklyn’s official menorah” — even though there is no “official” religious anything, thanks to the First Amendment.

And only in Brooklyn would the Borough President split his time between the two menorahs, just so no one gets offended.

Yes, folks, Brooklyn’s annual “Menorah War” has heated up again, pitting a Jewish congregation in Park Slope against its rival in Brooklyn Heights — all amid the backdrop of a Hanukkah celebration that commemorates an ancient miracle.

The only miracle will be if everyone is still on speaking terms after the holiday.

In this corner, topping out at 22 feet, is “Brooklyn’s largest public menorah,” installed for 20 years in Grand Army Plaza by Rabbi Shimon Hecht of Chabad of Park Slope and Prospect Heights.

In the far corner, stretching the tape at 25 feet, is “Brooklyn’s official menorah,” which has stood for a decade or so in front of the state Supreme Court building near Borough Hall. It’s operated by Rabbi Aaron Raskin of Congregation B’nai Avraham of Brookyn Heights.

Oh, and to make matters more interesting, Raskin’s menorah is named after Jacob J. Hecht, a prominent rabbi whose son is Shimon Hecht! Raskin is Jacob J. Hecht’s grandson, making him Shimon Hecht’s nephew. (Paging Dr. Freud!)

This is the most-heated uncle/nephew competition since Titus and Claudius (if you trade the togas for tefillin).

“We’re the official menorah,” said Raskin’s associate, Rabbi Simcha Weinstein. “We’re the menorah that Marty Markowitz uses in official photos. Perhaps ‘official’ isn’t the right word, but we’re more official than they are.”

For his part, Hecht merely mumbled that his menorah has been here longer.

The battle bursts into the open when you actually attend the two menorah-lighting ceremonies, as this latke-loving columnist did Tuesday.

The Brooklyn Heights menorah is lighted first — and what a scene! Jewish men danced the hora. Children passed out potato pancakes.

And in an effort to attract a younger crowd, Raskin (once famously photographed atop a Harley-Davidson chopper, even though he does not ride) even held the first-ever latke-eating contest, featuring athletes from the International Federation of Competitive Eating.

And for star power, Raskin can’t be beat. On Tuesday, he not only had Borough President Markowitz, but the Consul General of Turkey, who became the first Muslim leader to light a Brooklyn menorah.

Raskin even gave a nifty sermon that used the Hanukkah lights as a metaphor for Mankind’s obligation to light up the world.

I’m not much of a religious man — the only time I pray is when I’ve got money riding on something — but it was quite a show.

I rushed over to Grand Army Plaza, where I found a smaller menorah and a smaller crowd. Rabbi Hecht was there, and so was City Councilmember Tish James. So much for star power.

A Con-Ed worker who assists both groups gave me an independent assessment.

“The menorah Downtown is bigger, but this is a much better scene,” he said.

“You should see it when Schumer is here. The people go wild.”

The senator’s magnetism notwithstanding, I found that hard to believe.

I call Markowitz for some wisdom of Solomon, but the Beep claimed to be neutral in the Battle of the Brooklyn Menorahs.

But then, Markowitz rushed off to a ceremony at yet another menorah, this one at the southwestern corner of Prospect Park in Windsor Terrace.

It was installed by Rabbi Shmuel Butman, who’s also responsible for the menorah on Fifth Avenue and Central Park South in Manhattan — the one that bills itself as the “world’s largest.”

“You gotta get down here!” Markowitz said. “This thing is 31-feet tall. Rabbi Butman affirms that it’s the second largest menorah in the world. Happy Hanukkah.”

Oy, vey, here we go again.



Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com
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