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If Your Menorah Could Talk, What Would It Say?

Menorah. Courtesy Scott Ableman CC, Flickr

Menorah. Courtesy Scott Ableman CC, Flickr

I have told many of you about a close friend of mine in the Rabbinate who is a collector of antiques. Among his collection are a number of gorgeous menorot from different places and time periods. One was an 18th century German menorah. Just before the pogrom of Kristallnacht, someone who had an inkling of what was about to happen brought the beautiful menorah to the Bishop of Ulm, a German city on the Danube. The Bishop hid it in the church crypt. At the end of the war, the menorah came into the possession of Otto Frank, who survived the war, though his wife and daughters (Anna and Margot) did not. Otto Frank went on to become quite active in the Reform Movement of Europe. My friend was interning for a time in Europe and spent an evening in Frank’s home. Frank saw him staring at the menorah and understood that this was someone who appreciated the value of good art. Frank decided to give him the menorah on the condition that he would see to it that Kaddish would be recited for his daughters in the United States. My friend agreed, and the menorah found a new home.

Another piece in my friend’s menorah collection was black, fashioned out of shrapnel that was collected from one of the battlegrounds in the aftermath of the Six Day War in Israel in 1967. (“And they shall beat their swords into plowshares….”)

One Chanukah a number of years ago, I sat in my friend’s apartment in New York, along with a several other friends. The apartment was ablaze with light from the vast menorah collection. This time he focused on another incredible piece in the collection. He shook his head and opined, “If that thing could only talk!”

And so, my friends, I bring this story to you now, and hope you will take the opportunity to make it your own. If Your Menorah Could Talk, What Would It Say? Maybe it has been passed through generations of your family. Maybe it is brand new. Maybe it has a child-centered theme, or came as a gift from a special person in your life. Whatever it may be, the story of your menorah is ultimately a story about you; about you, your family, and your relationship to Jewish life.

This Sunday, during our Chanukah celebration, instead of lighting all our menorot (because it isn’t actually Chanukah yet), our menorot will tell their stories to all to come to celebrate with us. Bring your menorah, and we will provide a card and a pen for you to write your menorah’s story to share with all of us. And we look forward to sharing ours with you.

L’zecher Anna Frank

torah-cover-frank-edit-wNothing could be sweeter than Shabbat in Jerusalem, and this day was no exception. Earlier this morning (and last night as well) Steve and I attended services at Kehilat Har El, the first Reform synagogue in Israel, founded in 1958. The congregation is masterfully led by my good friend Rabbi Ada Zavidov. Har El’s congregants include both Ashkenazim and Sephardim, and count among their founding members a number of German immigrants, mostly survivors of the Shoah.

During the service today, Rabbi Zavidov called our attention to the crown and breastplate adorning the Torah scroll. They are beautiful silver ornaments, and, like most people and things in Israel, bear a remarkable history. Otto Frank, z”l, was a leader in the Reform Movement in Europe after the War. After losing his whole family, he remarried after the war, and he and his wife (a former neighbor in Amsterdam) moved to Switzerland. During a trip to Israel in 1963, Otto Frank visited Kehilat Har El, and gave the congregation a generous gift. With this gift, the congregation commissioned the artist David Heinz Gumpel to create these beautiful Torah ornaments. They are inscribed with the words, “L’zecher Anna Frank,” “In memory of Anna Frank.” Anna, of course, was Otto’s younger daughter, author of the diary which she wrote during their family’s years of hiding in a factory attic in Amsterdam. I have inserted a photo of the ornaments below.

This week we will read a double Torah portion, MatotMas’ei, as we conclude the Book of Numbers. Our ancestors have come to the end of their long years of wandering in the Wilderness, and are about to enter Eretz Yisrael, the Land that God has promised to them and their descendants. In seeing these beautiful Torah ornaments I contemplated the sufferings of our people throughout history. And then I reveled in the sweetness of Shabbat among our people, in the midst of this wonderful congregation, speaking Hebrew, singing together, celebrating with a Bar Mitzvah and his family. In passing the Torah to his family and then to him, Rabbi Zavidov described him as “the newest link in the chain of tradition.” It was the Torah, of course, with these beautiful ornaments in tribute to Anne Frank. That one moment was an extraordinary confluence of painful memory, a moment of joy, and a future of hope. Then, amid the gleaming stones, and beautiful flowers, and shining sun of Jerusalem, we chanted kiddush and shared some challah. . .

Granted, it is not yet a perfect world, and our people still have very real issues to work on, both from within and without. Nevertheless, it was palpably clear in that moment that, in a very profound way, we have, indeed, closed the book on our wanderings. Our people are home.