Opinion: The wonder of Menorahs as we celebrate Hanukkah
This Saturday evening, Christmas Eve, as we Jews begin our 8-day celebration of Hanukkah, the festival marking the dedication (Hanukkah Translated) of the second temple in Jerusalem, I wanted to focus on the most important symbol for me — the Menorah. This beautiful holiday is also known as the festival of lights and I love the ritual of using one of our many Menorahs to light the candles.
According to a short piece from Israelboutique.com, “the Menorah stands for light, wisdom and divine inspiration. Originally, the Menorah was a seven-branched candelabra beaten out of a solid piece of gold that served as one of the sacred vessels in the Holy Temple... Only pure, fresh olive oil of the highest quality was suitable to light the Menorah…The Menorah’s design and the ideas it communicates endure as an inspiration for universal enlightenment.”
Today’s Menorahs contain nine branches, including the Shames (Shamash) or servant candle, which is used to light each of the 8 candles. According to Jewish Gift Place.com, “The candles are placed in the Menorah from right to left. The candles are lit from left to right. None of the eight candles can be used for anything beyond publicizing the Hanukkah story.”
Over the past 50 years, my wife and I have been collecting unusual Menorahs, which we have discovered in many off-the-beaten path stores, art fairs and Judaica shops around the United States. Our criteria are very simple. The Menorah must be really different and its design has to be really striking. Most of our Menorahs (Hanukkahs) fit that description and we have used almost all of them either separately or together to create a real array of lights. For instance, nearly 15 years ago we attended the Ann Arbor, Michigan art fair, a huge event, with our daughter. As we walked down one of the main streets, I saw a breathtaking array of glass Menorahs. When we stopped to chat with the artist, we learned that he was a Chicago area glass blower and he had just started designing these Menorahs. The piece was gorgeous and very heavy. It’s long and sleek and filled with purples, reds and blues. Today, it adorns our fireplace and we love using it, especially several nights into Hanukkah when the lights against the glass truly publicize Hanukkah.
Soon after we’d purchased the glass Menorah, we were walking around New Canaan on Black Friday the same year. We wandered into this amazing store called The Wave (it’s no longer there, but a sister store is still in New Haven). I saw this incredible tall wooden Menorah out of the corner of my eye and dragged my wife over. The name of the manufacturer was a company called Styx and the Menorah was part of a display of eclectic looking furniture, mirrors and jewel boxes.
I knew we had to have that Menorah. There was a beautiful bird adorning one end of the piece and on the points of the flat Jewish star, the designer had carved drink, eat, play, dream and there was an inspirational saying on the base of this magnificent Hanukkiah. The Menorah remains as a decorative piece and it accents every Hanukkah as a true symbol of freedom and inspiration. Anyone who visits is immediately struck by the beauty of this piece.
Our Womanorah, which we purchased years ago at Remarkable Books in Westport when it was a favorite haunt, looks like it was chiseled out of dark clay. The images of the women are amazing and we love to use the Womanora these days as a true symbol of women’s rights.
When we visited Taos, New Mexico and Albuquerque sometime early in the 21st century, we were walking around a square with charming shops when the sign for the Judaica shop caught my eye. I told my wife we had to stop into that shop and when we did I saw a gorgeous silver plate Menorah. Its design with curves and circles just struck me and the price was just over $50. It was one of several Menorahs but it was unique so I told the shop owner to wrap it up.
I’ve only included a small representation of our Menorah collection, which today numbers about 15, and each one has its own look and character. But our favorite night of Hanukkah is the last one when we bring out all of our collection, place them in the window and light enough candles to publicize this holiday with lights that could reach our entire neighborhood. It is truly a spectacular night. Happy Hanukkah to all who celebrate.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.