In 2012, the Jewish Russian Learning Center of South Beach in Staten Island, New York, has been without a permanent place to celebrate Hanukkah. But that doesn’t mean they were left out in the cold.
Since then, they have held a public menorah lighting in Sand Lane, in the parking lot of the Key Food supermarket. This is all thanks to store owner Daniel Doleh. Monday, Doleh was honored with a certificate from Rabbi Zeev Kushnirsky.
The certificate read:
“The JRLC of South Beach proudly presents this certificate in appreciate to Daniel Doleh and Mohammad Zghari, along with Key Food. We acknowledge your kindness in providing a space for the Hanukkah Menorah. Our community came together in sharing the light of Hanukkah.”
It was signed by Rabbi Kushnirksy and the congreation of the JRLC.
What’s even more outstanding is that Doleh isn’t Jewish. He has Italian and Palestinian roots, and his parents practice Catholicism and Islam.
“We wanted to start this event to let the people know we’re their for support,” said Kushnirsky. “Daniel has helped us do that ever since we first asked.”
The menorah celebrates the miracle of Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, in which oil for one night proved to be enough to last for eight nights. It’s often celebrated with gift-giving. For the community center, Doleh, has given them the biggest gift they could have gotten.
But Doleh is simply a caring and appreciate business owner whose interest is in building up the community and creating mutual understanding among neighbors. He is modest about what his actions have meant for the congregation.
“We’re all American,” said Doleh, formerly of Tottenville, “and we should all be coming together to promote peace and unity.”
At 11 a.m. Monday, Kushnirsky, along with member of the congregation Jeff Fuchs, arrived at the Key Food to see Doleh, and awarded him a plaque for everything he has accomplished for the center and for the South Beach Jewish community.
“We wanted to recognize and thank Daniel for being able to promote positivity, especially with everything you see going on in the world between different cultures,” added Rabbi Kushnirsky. Kushnirksy is well aware of religious tensions that have arisen between Jews, Arabs and Christians, in the Middle East and elsewhere. Especially around the holiday season, it’s more encouraging than ever to see people of different religions unite in a spirit of peace and tolerance.
“I’m really blown away to be receiving this award,” Doleh said in an interview with the Advance. “I just wanted to do the right thing.”
During Hanukkah, which began December 8, hundreds of people arrived for the JRLC menorah lighting ceremony, which featured live music, chocolate coins and doughnuts.
“The season of Hanukkah is about shining the light toward darkness,” concluded the rabbi, “and thats what we wanted to do today.”
Doleh has definitely added to the lighthearted feeling in South Beach with his generous offer. In a day when tensions between different religious groups can run high and even result in violence, Doleh has proved himself an example to those willing to cross barriers and engage in interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The JRLC certainly would not have a space to celebrate Hanukkah without him, and the certificate indicates that this small gesture should be a symbol of tolerance to the community, the nation and the world for years to come.