By Maylan L. Studart
Hundreds of people gathered in Roslyn under a blanket of wet fog Sunday evening, the first night of the Hanukkah, with six guests of honor: Pittsburgh police officers.
The Chabad of Roslyn hosted six Pittsburgh law enforcement officials who responded to the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in October.
They joined the community and local officials in lighting the tallest menorah on Long Island.
“A little light will dispel all darkness,” said Chabad of Roslyn Rabbi Aaron Konikov. “And we have with us, representing that magnitude, the first responders from Pittsburgh which represent the modern-day Maccabees.”
The Maccabees were a group of rebel Jews during the second century B.C.E. that defeated the Greek army of Seleucids and reclaimed the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Konikov said the Pittsburgh officers who were the first to respond to the mass shooting personify the Maccabees because they fought for goodness and to protect the Jewish people.
“They raced into the face of darkness and smothered the evil,” Konikov said. “And everyone must emulate our modern-day Maccabees.”
The Roslyn chabad menorah is over 30 feet tall and overlooks the Long Island Expressway, so to light the shamash, the taller, middle candle and the first night’s candle, out of eight, Konikov, Pittsburgh Police Cmdr. Jason Lando and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran jumped on the aerial ladder of truck 594 of the Roslyn Highlands Hook & Ladder, Engine & Hose Company.
The crowd prayed in unison with Rabbi Konikov as he said three prayers for the lighting of the candles over the speakers from the top of the menorah with Curran and Lando.
After the prayers and with the menorah lit, locals mingled with law enforcement officials and lingered for the Hanukkah car parade that followed.
Rhonda Samuel and Eric Gelfand of Roslyn made sure to shake every officer’s hand and thank the visitors for their heroism.
“What happened in Pittsburgh was a terrorist attack and it gave us so much sadness,” said Samuel. “So, to hear that [the officers] were traveling all the way here to stand here in the pouring rain with us, we had to personally come out and say thank you because they put their lives in danger, they ran into this building without knowing what was going to be in front of them.”
“They’re what we call real ‘menschen,’” Gelfand said of the officers.
Pittsburgh Officer Michael Bailey said he felt honored to be in Roslyn.
“They’re supporting us, so it’s important for us to support as well,” said Bailey. “It was a traumatic event that the Jewish community went through, and it’s good to show that the police departments are willing to protect them and to come out here and show their support with the menorah lighting.”
Konikov said he hosted the six officers after the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police sponsored their visit.
“The bureau wanted [the officers] to have a little respite from all of it – burials, ceremonies,” he said. “This is a little tribute for them to be honored and have some serenity, and it’s our privilege to host them.”
The officers stayed at a nearby hotel on Long Island and took in the sights of New York City. It was Officer Bailey’s first time in New York.
“Everybody has been very nice, very accommodating,” he said. “Roslyn is very beautiful.”
Officer David Shifren said he is one of only four Jewish police officers out of the nearly 950 Pittsburgh Bureau of Police officers. He taught English at a yeshiva before becoming a police officer.
“I felt especially horrified it happened,” Shifren said about the mass shooting he responded to. “But the outpouring of love from around the country has been great to see.”
He said police offices in Squirrel Hill, where the shooting took place, are covered with thank you letters and drawings. He said he never saw such a show of togetherness before.
Curran and state Sen.-elect Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) came to personally thank the officers.
“Thanks to Pittsburgh for making the schlep to be with us,” Curran said. “Tonight, we will be a light in the darkness.”
“You have a special place in our hearts for helping out,” Kaplan said.
Despite the drizzle and gloomy weather, there were mostly smiles in the crowd, especially from the Pittsburgh officers, as children danced to music and the locals distributed jelly doughnuts to the crowd.
Curran gave a citation for bravery to each of the Pittsburgh officers. She also thanked Nassau County law enforcement officers for their support.
Several people in the crowd mentioned the unexpected feeling of support they felt, even Officer Bailey.
“You hear all this stuff about police officers on the news, but you come out here and see this, it shows that everybody’s looking to support you,” he said.