How to Make A Bike-Powered Menorah in Mississippi (and Everywhere)

Spending Hanukkah in the Deep South is far from my “most remote” holiday experience. In December of 2012, I was a junior in college studying abroad in rural China. For several Jewish holidays, I made the three-hour high-speed train trek to Shanghai to celebrate with the Jewish community there — which led to a truly illuminating discovery.

The community in Shanghai consisted mostly of foreigners, either visiting for a bit or working in the city. I made the trip for Rosh Hashanah in September, for one Shabbat in November, and then I made a special point to come to town for Hanukkah, my favorite Jewish holiday. I was eager to find out what the local Jewish community had in store for the Festival of Lights.

I walked into the Ohel Rachel synagogue in Shanghai’s Jing’an district and was immediately astounded. At least 100 people were roaming around, enjoying sufganiyot (doughnuts), drinking wine, and lighting candles. What stood out beyond the crowd and the treats was perched prominently on the bimah, an eight-foot tall electric chanukiyah (Hanukkah menorah) being powered completely by bicycle-generated electricity.

I watched the little kids ride the bike to keep the lights flickering throughout the night and thought to myself, “I have to find a way to make myself one of these!”

I returned to the U.S. and resumed my studies at college. I forgot about my bike-powered chanukiyah aspirations. But last year, my dream was reignited. While brainstorming innovative Hanukkah ideas with the rest of the Education Team at the ISJL, my brain lit up and I knew I had to bring this idea to life. I talked to Rabbi Matt Dreffin, my boss, who also happens to be one of the most technically skilled people I’ve met, and we figured out a way to do it. Unfortunately, it was too late this year to bring this idea to life. We were brainstorming this just pre-Hanukkah, not enough time to order parts, find a bike, and put the whole shebang together. So we bookmarked it, adding a calendar alert for the following fall.

This October, I got a notification on my phone. Text in all-caps told me that it was time. We would build this bicycle-powered chanukiyah, now or never. (I know, ominous.) Our parts finally arrived and we were able to put it all together for the result that you see in the pictures here. As you can imagine, there is still some work to be done. We need to decorate and spruce this contraption up a little bit… but now, year after year, we’ll have an amazing bike-to-light menorah to share with our communities!

Building this chanukiyah, like understanding the miracle of Hanukkah, is a work in progress. We hope to improve upon it each year. And though I won’t be here in Mississippi next year to see where it goes, I believe it’ll keep getting better and better. The goal is to use this bike not only brighten the miracle of Hanukkah here in Jackson, but also to inspire others to do the same. So with that in mind…

Want to make your own bike-powered menorah for next year? Here’s how! (Note: Finding someone with some basic electric/construction skills is the key to success and safety with this project!)

How To Make A Bike-Powered Hanukkah Menorah

Arielle's long-awaited Bike-To-Light Menorah!
Arielle’s long-awaited Bike-To-Light Menorah!

– Bike (with multiple gears)
– Stationary bike rack
– Inverter
– DC motor
– Extra bicycle chain
– Electrical chanukiyah (can order or build from scratch)

Building instructions:
Construct a frame to mount the DC motor in line with the back gears of the bike. Connect the chain from bike to DC motor. Mount the bike inside the bike rack, making sure there is the proper amount of tension on the chain so it doesn’t fall off. Connect the inverter to the DC motor. Plug the electrical chanukiyah into the inverter. Turn the inverter on. Put yourself on the bike, and when you start pedaling, it should create a current to light the chanukiyah.

Here’s to sustainably acquired Hanukkah light and blessings, and celebrations in Mississippi, Shanghai, and everywhere across the globe! Chag Sameach!

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