My father’s menorah has been sitting on top of a high bookcase in our house for many years. When we took it down the other day, unused and hidden, it was covered in a thick layer of dust.
This menorah is heavy and cumbersome. Made of solid brass and estimated to be 200-250 years old, it’s a museum piece. It’s estimated worth is between $800-$1,200. Many years ago, we saw similar menorahs in the Museum of the Diaspora in Tel Aviv, Israel. Like my dad’s, they were made in Poland. This makes me chuckle since Dad’s family was very proud of their German ancestry. Actually, they lived in an area that was part of Poland or Germany depending on which side won the latest war.
I find it frustrating not knowing where Dad got the menorah. Since his father, my grandfather, was the second oldest of 12 siblings and the oldest male child, is it an heirloom? Did it belong to my great-grandfather and generations before him? Did they schlep (carry) it to America from Europe?
More likely, my grandmother saw it in a shop in New Jersey or New York in the 1930s or 1940s. She liked buying tchotchkes (knickknacks). It’s easy to envision her seeing the menorah in the store window and buying it.
Another scenario is that my father acquired it through his business, Baltimore Stamp Company. He often traded or bartered stamps for stuff and services. Maybe he saw it at a non-Jewish stamp collector’s house and bought it. Whatever the story, it will always remain a mystery.
Childhood Menorah Memories
Until I was 11 years old, we lived in Howard Park, a neighborhood of Baltimore City. We might have been the only Jewish family on our block. In those days, in the 1950s and 1960s, we never displayed the lit candles in the window. My father remembered the anti-Semitism he experienced growing up in Jersey City. He used to tell us stories about being taunted for being a “Jew boy.” Even when we moved to “Jewish” Pikesville, he always wore a hat over his kippah.
Setting the candles in this particular menorah took lots of time. The candle/oil cups are about 7/8″ in diameter. Traditional Shabbat candles don’t fit. Chanukah candles that come 48 to a box are way too small. Dad never messed around with olive oil and wicks. Therefore, he held a flame against the bottom of each Chanukah candle until it began to melt. Then, he’d place the candle in the cup, and after a couple of tries, it stood up via the melted wax.
Chanukah in Pikesville
When we moved to Pikesville in 1965, we now felt comfortable placing our menorahs in the living room window. We lived in a Jewish neighborhood. And, every year in our house like it says on the dreidel, “nes gadol hayah shom” (a great miracle happened there).
You see, my parents didn’t have a special table for the menorah, so they improvised. My mother had acquired an ottoman with S&H Green Stamps. It was approximately 16″ x 22″ and had a padded, brown vinyl top. It was “unique” in that it was adjustable. The vinyl top was mounted on a metal stand that could adjust to lay flat or incline to three different positions. We hardly used it for our feet. Mostly it was a receptacle for the mound of newspapers and magazines that accumulated in the living room.
On Chanukah, the newspapers and magazines came off the ottoman. Instead, Dad placed a folding metal TV tray on top of the ottoman. Remember those? Mom also got them with S&H Green Stamps. The TV tray barely fit on the top of the ottoman, with maybe 1/16″ or less to spare on each side. On top of the TV tray went Dad’s menorah and others—mine, my sisters, etc. When my parents had a Chanukah party, at least five menorahs precariously balanced on that tiny tray.
The Chanukah parties consisted of my kids and their cousins, making lots of noise and stomping up and down the stairs. The house vibrated! Why the table never fell over, sparking a fire, is the miracle. I usually held my breath until the last candle burned out. Whew!
Dad’s menorah has not been used for years. We have four others, including a beautiful glass oil menorah I received as a gift. Today, one can buy premeasured olive oil cups with individual wicks. But let’s admit: While Dad’s menorah might be an antique and an heirloom, it is too heavy to use. Besides, it needs a thorough cleaning, as there is a lot of wax in those cups.
At some point I’ll need to find a new home for Dad’s menorah. I’m hoping that someone in the family will treasure it and pass it down to their children. So, while it might not originally have been a family heirloom, it can now become one.
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Read more by Eileen Creeger.