Wednesday, February 16, 2022



Growing up in a Jewish Bronx (NYC) household, it wasn't unusual for my mom to light two candles to welcome the Sabbath on Friday evenings. We really weren't that religious in our observance (although my mom was raised in an Orthodox household), but we always practiced some of the traditions. Friday night, erev Shabbat, was more than just the beginning of the "Day of Rest", it was also the end of the workweek for my dad. He was a hard-working man who relished his family time and he devoted his weekends to spending time with his wife and his daughters.


For so many reasons I adored the flickering lights of the Shabbos candles. Candles in many ways, represented so many happy things like birthdays, Chanukah, and wonderful festivals that always included special family time. My mom always kept what seemed to be a never-dwindling large box of "licht bentschen" in the kitchen cupboard. The towering candlesticks she used each week were heirlooms from her maternal grandmother and then her mother and represented more family connection.


In 1965, shortly after we had moved from a three-room to four-room apartment on the other side of the building where my parents were raising their family, there was a tremendous, and very frightening, blackout. The Great Northeast Blackout of 1965 (Tuesday, November 7th to be exact) began around five-thirty in the afternoon. I remember my mom had sent me down to the local newsstand to buy the newspaper when the streetlights began flickering. People started to panic. It was the middle of the Cold War and I remember one woman on the street started screaming that we were "under attack".


Scared, I ran home and up the three flights of stairs in the semi-darkness. Mommy soothed my fears. My sister had been studying at a friend's house and she came home shortly after. When the lights went out, my dad was ending his workday in New Jersey; he drove home over a dark George Washington Bridge. The first thing he did when he arrived home was to check on his family and after assuring himself that we were okay, he donned his Auxiliary Police uniform and responded to our local police station to help wherever he could — he wound up being one of the volunteers to walk on the elevated train tracks to safely escort trapped commuters to the nearest platform.


In the meanwhile, my mom (who was disabled) assigned a task to my sister and me. She instructed us to stay together and to knock on every door in our apartment building to make sure that everyone had light for their apartment. Handing us each a large box of candles, it was our job to hand out candles to anyone who needed. There were a lot of thankful neighbors that evening. My mom placed a chair by the door so she could listen as we went through the building.

The Great Northeast Blackout of 1965 lasted less than twelve hours, it darkened more than a handful of northeast states and part of Canada. News reports estimated approximately 30-million people were affected. People who couldn't reach home slept on the floor at Grand Central station, local airports and office buildings. Planes were grounded without runway lights and control towers. There were no traffic lights, television, trains, elevators, or local shops open.


For nearly twelve hours people were in the dark worried and wondering what had caused this horrendous event. But in one Bronx apartment building, every apartment had light, many from the flickering light of Shabbos candles.


To this day each time I light my own Shabbos candles, I remember the night my parents taught my sister and me about caring for our neighbors. I can still picture the joy in the faces of folks who were trying to manage through the darkness as they were handed candles to help them light the way.


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