With the lighting of 834 menorahs in the Princeton Airport on Tuesday evening, organizers from the Jewish Center of Princeton set a new Guinness World Record.
Over 900 people waited through the long lines for parking and registration in a long-anticipated effort to eclipse the previous record of 782 menorahs lit. The previous record was set by Rabbi Charles Klein and the Merrick Jewish Centre in Merrick, N.Y., in 2011.
Jewish Center Director of Programming Neil Wise planned the event after reading about the Merrick Jewish Centre’s record over the summer.
“I’m a determined man,” Wise said. “The Jewish Center ran the event, but this was about the community; this was about all the area’s synagogues and Jewish organizations coming together as one to have one community menorah.”
Besides event participants, the event included 90 table captains, 30 monitors and 12 judges, including Princeton mayor-elect Liz Lempert, Montgomery mayor Ed Trzaska, McCaffrey’s Market owner Jim McCaffrey and outgoing Center for Jewish Life Student Board president Ricky Silberman ’13.
“I’ve never been involved in a Guinness Book of World Records attempt of any type, but I dreamt about it as a kid,” Lempert said.
Silberman said that, according to Guinness guidelines, judges could not have any affiliation with the Jewish Center of Princeton. Wise selected the judges and asked them if they would be willing to serve several weeks ago.
Cars began lining up to the airport starting at 4:30 p.m., according to Jewish Center member and Montgomery, N.J., resident David Cheskis, who was one of about a dozen people who patrolled the area between the airport and Route 206 directing cars into parking spaces.
The line outside the actual airport building was long as well, with about 100 people at any given time waiting to get a registration sticker and make a videotape testimony of their name, hometown and registration number for official documentation.
Upstairs, members of the press and judges lounged on couches and fold-up chairs throughout the registration process, which continued past 6 p.m., despite the original plan to discount participants who arrived after 5:45 p.m.
Judges helped themselves to a full plate of assorted cookies and chatted casually while they waited for registration to close.
Inside the airport hangar, music blared and a variety of menorahs sat atop tables covered in aluminum foil, with menorah designs ranging from fire trucks to doves to bridges. After the 12 judges were officially announced in alphabetical order, they walked around the cleared aisles to make sure each participant had only one menorah.
A man walked around handing out yarmulkes to whoever would take them, and Wise noted that four of the participants had flown into the airport that very day to participate in the event. About 20 Princeton students arrived through transportation coordinated by Wise at the request of CJL vice president Abby Klionsky ’14, who served as a table captain at the event.
“I teach Hebrew school at the Jewish Center, and they had asked all the teachers to be monitors,” Klionsky said. “Neil is the one who planned everything, and he said if you get me a bus of Princeton students to come, I’ll throw you a party.”
Klionsky then sent out emails and Facebook messages about the event, which is how most of the participating Princeton students heard about it.
In recognition of the fourth night of Hanukkah, each menorah held five candles, one for each day and the shamash, a candle used to light the others.
At about 6 p.m., Rabbi Adam Feldman of the Jewish Center spoke before the crowded hangar, thanking the airport owners, medical teams, the fire department and all the people who attended the event. At 6:23 p.m., he gave the audience instructions to light their candles and sing two blessings.
Princeton resident Carl Mayer ’81, who had come with his wife Karen and their young son and daughter, said his wife found out about the event through an Internet announcement.
“Our family celebrates Hanukkah, and we think it has a particular significance because it’s a holiday of resilience and resolve in the face of adversity,” Mayer said. “We read there was an effort to try for a world record in lighting menorahs. It had the added bonus of bringing the children along for the record.”
With the candles lit and people beginning to file out, Wise laid out giant boxes of 900 jelly donuts in the registration area.
Feldman credited the event’s success to the Internet, which allowed people outside of the congregation to learn about the event.
“That’s the beauty of the Internet. This wouldn’t have have happened 10 years ago,” Feldman said.
Princeton students who attended expressed amazement and excitement at taking part in the setting of a world record.
“It was like all of my dreams had come true at one moment,” Max Kaplan ’16 said.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/12/12/32168/