Nathiel Egosi was raised in Sag Harbor, owns an engineering company and his family owns and operates The Sag Harbor Inn. Mr. Egosi shared the story behind his family’s sponsoring of the community menorah on Long Wharf each year.
How widely-known in the community is it that you are the sponsor of the annual menorah display on Long Wharf, rather than a local Jewish congregation such as Temple Adas Israel?
Recognition was never important to our family, so I suspect few know. Satisfaction simply comes from the joy it brings to the community. Sag Harbor is a melting pot of religion, heritage, race and culture. Hanukkah is celebrated by all Jews in the tradition of commemorating when Jews regained their freedom over 2,000 years ago from a hostile foreign nation that ransacked and desecrated the Holy Temple after a long period of denying Jews religious freedom. This ancient tradition has been an inspiration to fight against religious persecution and any form of prejudice. Hanukkah is a holiday for all Jews, whether affiliated or not with any congregation. The menorah being sponsored independently aligns well with Sag Harbor’s long history of diversity and acceptance of all people.
For how many years have you been sponsoring the menorah on Long Wharf?
I don’t recall exactly, but it is likely over 25 years that my father Charles Egosi started this annual tradition. Each year he diligently applied for a permit and erected the menorah just before Hanukkah and after put it in safe keeping for the next year. When he lost his eyesight in 1998, that didn’t discourage him. Each year when we gathered on Long Wharf, I could tell in his eyes he could still see the lights. As he got sick in his later years, I continued the tradition. He never asked me or others to take care of it, nor did we ever talk about that. It was and continues to just be a natural desire.
I understand this tradition has an especially significant meaning for you. What does it mean to you and your family?
Sag Harbor has always celebrated tradition. Growing up in Sag Harbor, the only synagogue was closed in the winter. In my senior year at Pierson, as far as I knew, I was the only Jewish kid in the entire high school. My father escaped from the Nazi death camps; unfortunately the majority of our families all perished. He survived and it was important to him that all Jewish children and including his own grandchildren could enjoy Hanukkah in freedom. So he petitioned the Village Mayor and Board to grant him permission to erect a Menorah each year. Starting a new tradition in Sag Harbor took some time and perseverance to get everyone comfortable with the idea. Approval was granted and in tradition, each year the Village renews its permission and the Menorah is placed at Long Wharf for all. I recall my father saying to me, ‘Don’t expect many to attend the lighting.’ I wondered if we were going to be the only ones. To our surprise and pleasure, the event was filled with people. It is true that if you build it, people will come. I remember in the early days the many people from all over the area telling us how none of their villages had a menorah and they wanted their children to see one. They were grateful. So each year I keep the tradition alive by lighting the menorah as the symbol to rededicate our values and honor our history.
What is the response you receive when people learn of the special back story?
Locals appreciate the deep meaning of community and tradition in Sag Harbor’s long history of being a safe port and harbor for all.
Do you have a particular message you’d like to share with the community on the occasion of Hanukkah this year?
Growing up in Sag Harbor as a Jew was both difficult while also a blessing. As different as I was, so was everyone else. We were all different, so we all learned the meaning of empathy and community. The pride and attraction of Sag Harbor today remains our diversity and acceptance of all. The heritage of our residents and expanded part-time community come from everywhere in the world. It is important to me Sag Harbor continues to be balanced and diverse in every aspect.