Friday, December 11, 2009

A Menorah Story

Every menorah tells a story.

The Hanukkah menorah that Mara and I have used since the year we were married has journeyed with our family across the globe. You can see photos of it above and below, as it was lit in our apartment at Neve Schechter in Jerusalem. Notice how I look younger and she looks the same.

We purchased the menorah from a small art gallery in the Old City's Jewish quarter. 'Twas the day before Hanukkah and we needed something to light that night. We passed by all the typical ones, the traditional brass, the modernistic glass, the Zionist replicas of the Menorah outside the Knesset.

None of the menorahs we saw were what we were looking for. Until we came across this shop and immediately, we both knew - this was the one for us. Why did we love it so much?

- It's made of Jerusalem stone. This of course made it a pain-in-the-Knesset to move around (and my mother in law was the one who schlepped it home for us in her carry on - which has in itself become a family legend over the years). But wherever we lived, we felt we would be carrying a piece of Jerusalem with us. Literally! We owned a piece of the rock.

- The stone is carved out in a grid pattern, reminiscent of the Western Wall. But this no kitschy Kotel scene that you will find on ashtrays in trinket stores. This was a one of a kind, gently carved slab of marble, which may, who knows, have been part of the temple itself once upon a time. You have to understand, one of the more remarkable things about Jerusalem is that when the Romans destroyed the temple, the debris was too heavy to be moved very far. Much was simply tossed into the valley beneath. Entire pillars found their way into the upper city, which is now the Jewish quarter. I saw a bunch of kids creatively use one as a soccer goal. Every pebble in that area could well have come from the holy of holies. Every stone is holy. And each one tells a story. As the popular Israeli song about the Kotel states: Some people have hearts of stone; some stones have the heart of people. These stones cry. When wax drips down, it looks like the menorah itself is crying human tears.

- The menorah is not perfect. It slopes a little and the the little holes for the candles (or oil dispenser, which we used at first), are not symmetrically aligned.

- The Jewish star and olive branches speak less of Maccabean militarism than of the miraculous enduring hope that lights up our darkest moments - a hope that represents the most eternal victory of our indestructible people.

- This menorah, deeply rooted in our holy city, like us, has also accompanied us on our family's journey. As our lifelong companion (and in many ways, our first child, even predating Maggie, the dog), it faithfully waits all year on the floor of our upstairs closet for me to lift it (with a more audible "oy" each year) and carry it downstairs, where it awaits its first glance at us and the boys. And this menorah has seen them grow, year by year (click on photos to enlarge).

This year the menorah will look upon our family again, as we gather around it this coming week, all together again, once Ethan comes home following his finals. In a world where everything changes, this slab of Jerusalem has become, quite literally, our rock, one the few constants in a crazy world.

How fitting that we chose this simple, earth toned, unbalanced shining half-moon with which to share the light of our miracles with the world.

Even our dogs love to gather round when we light the menorah, although they prefer their own, which, when they bite it, plays "Maoz Tzur."

See here some contemporary menorah designs from the Betzelel School of Art in Jerusalem.

Below are some of the more traditional variants, taken from the 1901-1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, now in the public domain. See below also for a description of each:

1. Bronze, French, attributed to 12th cent. (in the Musée de Cluny, Paris).
2. Yellow copper, modern (in the synagogue at Pogrebishche, Russia).
3. Silver (?), medieval (in the possession of Dr. Albert Figdor, Vienna).
5. Silver and bronze, 17th cent. (in the possession of Jacob H. Schiff. New York).
6. Silver, late 19th century (from the collection of the late Rabbi Benjamin Szold, Baltimore).
7. Bronze, Italian, 15th cent. (in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London).
8. Silver, English (?), 16th cent. (in the possession of E. A. Franklin, London).
9. Silver, Nuremberg, 17th cent. (in the possession of N. S. Joseph, London).
10. Silver, modern (in the possession of Maurice Herrmann, New York).

No comments: