Monday, May 7, 2012


More or less 108 years ago in an area we'd recognize today as eastern Poland my great-great-grandmother Hinde bought a pair of silver candlesticks to give to her son's betrothed as a wedding gift. Today they're on my dining room table in Maryland and I'm writing about them on the internet.

I'm Jewish because my mother is Jewish because her mother was Jewish because her mother was Jewish and she got a pair of candlesticks for a wedding gift so that she could usher in the Jewish Sabbath every Friday night in one of the most important rituals in a Jewish woman's life. It's amazing to me what survives and what is lost.

Paul Ferney, oil on linen, 2010. I had him paint my candlesticks in the second round of The Commission Project.

I don't have any inheritance and as far as I know, I never will. We don't have precious jewels or polished antiques. We don't have that kind of family legacy. But improbably, I have a pair of candlesticks that fled Europe, crossed an ocean, were used as a weapon of self-defense during that crossing and still bear the dent and bend to prove it, came to the US and were used consistently, more or less, every week to light the Sabbath candles.

They are wax-covered and crooked and barely in need of re-silvering. Their value now isn't monetary, it's in their story of survival and enduring use and family legacy.

Judaism probably changed more in these more-or-less 108 years than in the thousands of years that came beforehand, and sometimes I can't reconcile the acts of ritual that live in my genes with modern science and opportunity. I don't light candles in those candlesticks every week, but I do light them frequently because in a life that's mostly spent forward-facing I find a great comfort in the tether of an enduring past.

This post is inspired by I AM FORBIDDEN by Anouk Markovits. Though not sisters by blood but through their Hasidic faith, Mila and Atara views the rules and structure of their culture differently. Mila seeks comfort in the Torah while Atara searches for answers in secular literature she is forbidden to read. Ultimately each must make an irrevocable decision that will change their lives forever. Join From Left to Write on May 8 as we discuss I AM FORBIDDEN. As a member, I received a copy of this book.

Also, as possibly the "Jewishest" of the group, after some trepidation I agreed to write the book club's introductory post for this book, which I've never done before. You can find that post here.

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Charlotte said...

What a special gift those candlesticks are!! Great post!

Bren said...

I predict those candlesticks will grow more and more precious as you age and as they get past on to your children. I think this was a brilliant way to deal with the complexity of this book!

Pam Margolis said...

i would love to hear how those candlesticks protected someone as a weapon.