18 April 2009

Israel: Rescuing brass candlesticks

A staple of every Jewish home was its pair of Shabbat candlesticks. Tall brass, intricately chased silver, silverplatem all kinds from all countries. If there was one single custom that could be said to signify a Jewish household, it was the lighting of Shabbat and holiday candles. And it was certainly enough to get someone arrested as a Judaizer by the Inquisition.

My great-grandmother's candlesticks arrived with her in 1905. We don't know if they were her mother's or whether they were purchased for her when she married. They arrived in her bundles that she shlepped along with Leib, 2, and Chaya Feiga 6 months. The bundles also included her samovar and its accessories and their feather beds.

In Jerusalem, a woman is giving new life and light to brass candlesticks, in this Jerusalem Post story.
On Pessah we think a lot about how best to pass on our traditions to the next generation, chastened by apocryphal stories of Jewish immigrants from good homes who rashly threw their tefillin in the sea on the way to America.

Conversely, I've never heard of a family - not even socialists or Communists - who jettisoned Mama's candlesticks. Just the opposite. Immigrants reverently preserved those brass candlesticks, no matter how little space and how little money they had. Nonetheless, sometimes sadly no one is left to light. What happens then to the family's candlesticks?

Brondi Katz Levine likes to rescue such candlesticks. Okay, she's sentimental. Every forsaken antique candlestick makes her wonder about the Jewish women - strangers - who lit it long ago. In her Jerusalem living room, Levine lights 12 candles each Friday night, all originally from Eastern Europe. They are the striking centerpiece of her home.
Her Eastern European family settled in Mountain Dale, in the Catskills' borscht belt. She obtained her first pair when she was engaged. Her sisters selected new silver candlesticks, but Levine requested a pair made of brass. Her mother offered to purchase a new set or she could have a pair that had been in the family since their immigration from Galicia over two decades earlier.

Russian and Polish brass candlesticks were often similar in shape, tall, with a wide square base and rounded stem. Some might have been silverplated at one time. Most were made before World War I so they are nearly a century old.

And so, after her wedding, Levine began lighting the old brass candlesticks each week. "I liked the idea that even though I didn't know the owner," said Levine, "these candlesticks had been loved and blessed by generations of other Jewish women. I felt their presence when I lit my candles."
As her five children were born, she thought about the added value of lighting old candleticks to honor the past and celebrate the future. She and her husband began looking for the old candlesticks.

When they found a pair from Warsaw near Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda, the antique dealer insisted she take a pair home with her for a test light before they paid. "Only after you say the Shabbat blessing on them will you know if they suit you," he advised her.
Over the years, her collection grew and friends and relatives offered others to her.

Last year, after a synagogue evening of psalm recitation for a friend who was ill, she saw a pair of abandoned European brass candlesticks that would complement her others.

No one knew to whom they belonged, but the synagogue warden was reluctant tolet her buy them. Levine persevered, finding a go-between who arranged the purchase. She learned later that her contribution had paid synagogue's back bills for electricity and literally kept their lights burning.
She has 12 now, just like the Tribes of Israel. Not all are pairs, some are singles, some have minor defects. But when all 12 tall candlesticks are shining, it seems a sight to behold.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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