Introduced last year by the Department of Community Services and Special Projects, the initiative is part of the OU’s “Safe Homes, Safe Shuls, Safe Schools” program.
Emanuel Adler, Chair of the OU Synagogue and Community Services Commission declared, “Any fire has the potential to do severe damage, but the pain increases when fire transforms a joyful holiday like Chanukah into a tragedy. Chanukah presents us with the opportunity to sensitize the community to dangers associated with use of fire in many of our observances.”
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, Associate Director of the Department of Synagogue Services, emphasized, “The Jewish calendar is full of events involving the use of fire, from searching for chometz before Pesach to bonfires on Lag B’Omer. We may be used to our weekly candles for Shabbos and havdalah, but Chanukah greatly exceeds them in terms of number and duration. By the last night of Chanukah, a large family can have dozens of candles burning.
“It is incumbent upon parents to be aware of the environment surrounding the candles, as well as what their children and pets may be up to. It’s always important to know what your children are doing, but it’s absolutely imperative when you have half a dozen fully-loaded menorahs blazing.”
The OU has made available several fire prevention guides on its website, http://www.ou.org/chagim/chanukah/prevention.htm.
• Chanukah Burn and Scald Prevention tips, which not only include candles, but the making of latkes as well; it advises women to be particularly careful of their sleeves and hair when lighting and blessing candles;
• Play it Safe for Chanukah, which has a variety of safety tips, including keeping a 10 lb. ABS fire extinguisher near the kitchen, away from the stove;
• Fire Safety for Jewish Observances, which among other items advises that candles should be kept at least four feet away from curtains, draperies, blinds, kitchen cabinets and bedding;
• A link to the New York City Fire Department’s fire safety information website;
• Who by Fire: Helping Burn Victims and Their Families, with a special section for Chanukah; and
• Home Safety – Ten Hot Tips to Make Your Home a No Burn Zone, including developing an emergency evacuation plan.
In addition, the OU has re-issued guidelines from Rabbi Hershel Schachter, OU Halachic Decisor, on Chanukah fire safety. In accordance with Jewish law (halacha) Rabbi Schachter declared: “If one is not going to be home while the Chanukah candles are lit, it is better that they not be lit, but one can light later in the evening if they will be home. There should always be someone watching or near the candles. In terms of using an electric menorah, you shouldn’t say a brachah (blessing) on it, although you are able to say a bracha on electric (incandescent) lights for Shabbat and Yom Tov candles. When lighting in a hotel room, one should make sure he has half an hour to let the candles burn, and then blow them out when he has to leave.”