Grampa's Menorah

In my family, there are precious few "religious heirlooms". In fact, other than this menorah, I can only think of my Grandmother's small, white, swan-shaped porcelain honey dishes used by my mother each Rosh Hashanah.This menorah is not much to look at. Although it is pure silver, it is small, a bit slanted to one side and it's missing the shamesh.

But to our family, it's the most beautiful menorah around.My mother still remembers that cold winter day when my Grampa brought the menorah home. He was wearing his trademark silk and wool scarf which was easily one and a half times as long as he was tall. He entered the home, menorah in hand. No wrapping paper, no cushioning, heck, no bag. Just the menorah in his shivering hand.This menorah came with silver caps so that you could put the oil right into the cup, place the wick in the oil and thread it through the silver cap. However, by the time Grampa got home that windy evening, a few of the caps had blown away. And, so, the caps were never used. I'm not sure what happened to the shamesh but I wouldn't be surprised if that blew away too!Grampa Aaron was something special. He was about as close as I ever got to "the old country". He had a heavy accent and his English was liberally spiced with Yiddish. He wore long underwear (longe gotkes) all year round including in the summer. He would cross major thoroughfares with absolute disregard for traffic signals and vehicular presence. Holding both armsstraight out to his sides as a stop sign was sufficient. When frightened he would say "Oy, I almost became a hearts attack." He couldn't understand why ice cream had pits (chocolate chips to me and you) and he, quite simply, did not hear too well. In the summer, Grampa Aaron would sit outside our bungalow in a brown chaise chair, taking in the country air and smiling. He quickly became popular with the colony kids who knew that a quick hello and a smile would yield chocolates, sucking candies and a few quarters for the pinball machine.

I'm not quite sure what it is about this menorah that makes it so special. Perhaps it's because, like Grampa, though it may be small, old and a bit hunched to one side and though it may be missing a few pieces, beneath it all, it's pure. And I guess it's because this menorah is one of the few remaining links of my family's Jewish past.

--Great Neck, New York

An Airport Grager

We were in Poland in September 2003 and went to an open air antique market.We spotted this [grager] and felt that no matter what the value it should be in a Jewish home.The vendor seemed to understand how badly we wanted it and kept reassuring us that it was very valuable and so would not come down in his price.We decided to walk away from his table hoping that when we returned he would give us a better deal. We went straight to a money machine – we felt that cash would make our case stronger, but when we returned to his table about twenty minutes later to our horror the [grager] was gone!! We were so upset and asked him what had happened to it and he told us he had sold it to another couple while we were gone. At this stage we would gladly have paid full price for it and more, much more! As we walked away very dejectedly the vendor roared with laughter and held it up- he had hidden it away from us. We are now the proud owners of this exquisite piece of Judaica –as we polished it up and saw the markings on it we were so excited. We don’t really even know the value of it but it has silver markings

- Houston Tx


They are not beautiful or shiny like other candlesticks you may have seen. As a matter of fact, they wobble a bit from side to side – uneven in their old age. And as I look at my grandmother’s brass candlesticks, I know with all certainty that they are priceless.

Dorothy Malkin was love. She was pride. She was confidence and humor. She was intelligence and dignity. She was Dove soap and Clinque face cream. Broiled salmon and steamed broccoli. Story teller. Advocate. Secret-keeper. Junk food dealer. Dream believer.

When I got married, she gave me her grandmother’s candlesticks. I am not sure if my grandmother lit candles each Friday night, or whether her mother did. It is possible these tall and solid pieces were not used regularly for decades. Before the wedding she told me that they were to be my gift. She shared that she had intended to leave them to me when she left the world but a friend suggested she give them to me then and there…so that she could watch me enjoy them. And in my home, the candlesticks have been put to use each Friday night.

She was there for all of my dance performances and school plays, my graduations and applications. Banged up bicycles and backflips. Bellyaches and boyfriends. She was there to walk down the aisle and to share in the joys of my new marriage. She was there to witness the birth of our miraculous firstborn. To rock and sing to him, feed him cheerios and laugh at his energy.

And then, she was gone. Taking with her all of the light, joy, and miraculous ability to make each and every person in her path feel entirely perfect and wonderful and special. And she was not here when our second beautiful son was born. She was not here for the purchase of our first home where the candlesticks proudly stand. She was not here when I started a business inspired by hers. She was not here for the birth of our precious baby girl Dorothy, named after her, just months ago.

But each Friday night, I light. I light the candles she gave me and I pray a special prayer for each child. And I know that one day our little Dorothy will light candles in these very special candlesticks. I pray that through my genes and Hashem’s miraculous wonders … each of our children, and their children and theirs and on forever…will have as much of my grandmother in them as is possible - that candles in these candlesticks will continue to shine bright on Friday nights far into the future.

They may not look worth their weight in brass but they are priceless to me.

--Bergenfield, NJ


The Leather Suitcase

My father and his parents arrived to the United States in the late 1950’s after surviving the Holocaust. Although my father learned to speak English fluently my grandmother, Zsofia spoke only very broken English even up until her death at the age of 102. It was evident though, after my grandfather Miklos’s death in the 1970’s, followed by my father’s death in 1987 that my grandmother was in pain not only from losing two of the most important people in her life, but also having lost siblings and other relatives in the concentration camps. Growing up I remember my grandmother sharing countless photos with me of relatives, and can now only guess their relationship to me by the few, legible handwritten notes in Hungarian on the backs of them. She kept these in a brown leather suitcase which told its age by the weathered scratches, and string in place of where a handle once was. Each time I look at it now I am reminded of the scene from Schindler’s List when Jews boarded trains, and their suitcases were thrown into piles which would later be raped of their belongings. Upon my grandmother’s death I was given this suitcase, but didn’t realize until after having gone through it just how special the contents were to her. This brown leather, scratched suitcase with withered stitching around the edges was much more than a box where she kept her memories. It was filled with photos,
passports, a name change document, European travel authorization letters, handwritten Hungarian recipes on paper so frail it crumbles at the touch, and a Hungarian Passover Hagada. It truly represented a time capsule of her memoirs.
What I find to be so extraordinary about how she kept her most valuable possessions is that she didn’t know how valuable they were during her life. Everything in this suitcase is her history. Points of time filled with joy and sometimes even heartbreak will be passed down to future generations so we will never forget. We can never forget where we came from and how important it is to remember.

--Sandy Springs, GA

1896 Hungarian Hagada

There, buried amidst my grandmothers most valuable possessions, in a simple brown leather suitcase, I found this amazing Hagada dating back to 1896. It’s delicate purple cover with gold embossed lettering with binding so frail it almost crumbles just looking at it was simple, yet powerful. Anyone looking at it knew it had been through , many generations, crossed oceans and told its readers each year of the storyof Pesach.I do not know how this sacred book got into my grandmother’s ownership before she emigrated to the United States, but I can only imagine and feel in my heart that my great ancestors once held it in the palms of their hands as well. How they shared wonderful meals, wine, songs and of course the Four Questions with family and friends throughout these joyous celebrations makes this cherished book havesecrets only those carrying it will recognize, understand and be able to identify with.I feel as though it is one of few treasured pieces they were able to leave Budapest with after having survived the Holocaust. For over a century of Seders my ancestors held this divine script. Hitler passedover my grandparents and father during the Holocaust, as G-d passed over our ancestors homes as thestory of Pesach is told. How blessed I feel to have this brilliant heirloom.

--Sandy Springs, GA


The attached photo is of my grandmother’s mezuzah. It’s a piece of Judaica which has a very special meaning to me. Miriam Goldstein was only 17 when she fled her native town of Lodz, Poland. The year was 1916 and the Russians had conquered part of Poland. One of the few possessions she carried to the United States with her was this mezuzah. It was on her door until her death in 1967.
My aunt inherited the mezuzah, but it did not find a place on her door. She had fallen in love with a Catholic and, like so many Jews, converted. It has been kept in a box in her house for 40 years. It might have remained unused except for a fortunate series of events.
Although I grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, I fell away from my religion for about 35 years. A couple of years ago I returned to my heritage. My parents were overjoyed and mentioned it to my aunt. When she found out I was shopping for a mezuzah to put on my door she remembered the one she had and sent it to me. I was absolutely thrilled to be able to return it to its proper place on a door. I was even more thrilled when my rabbi, hearing the story of the mezuzah, honored me by blessing it and assisted me in putting it up.
Now, every day when I return home from work or shopping, I see it there on my doorframe and am reminded of my grandmother and her miraculous journey to America.

--Gulf Breeze, FL

Congregation Beth Jacob Relics

The life of a shul is like that of its congregants, time limited. My shul lasted some seventy years. I came as a new member in its waning days. Established as a Hungarian Modern Orthodox synagogue in Astoria, it became a German Jewish institution where High Holy Day services once did not have enough seats.

Always a newcomer among its attendants of many decades of faithful support, hundreds came for a service but never to return. We became a congregation unique, enjoying each other in the group of shul goers, even though we may have lacked as individuals. We came alive in the group.

But despite all our efforts, we came to an impasse. The synagogue could not afford to continue. Battles ensued for five years as to the dissolution. We asked to become a Jewish center, a Jewish club, a much smaller shul. Nothing was viable, and we became fewer.

So we disperse the assets, kept the grave site, and guard the shul’s relics. We were not a rich shul and it shows in these remaining religious heirlooms. They need a new home to enrich Jewish life.. And not shown are a dozen of the most beautiful stained glass windows, one for each tribe, still in the building that once was our synagogue, now reliving as a Greek Community Center.

--Long Island City, NY

Kiddush Cup

My family likes to joke about it sometimes - they say "don't forget to polish the holy grail" or "make sure to put the chalice in the dishwasher," and they 're not wrong; our Kiddush cup looks like it was swiped from King Arthur's court and mistakenly placed on our Shabbat table. It isn't until you closely examine it that you see inscribed between the flowers & flourishes, the words “zechor et yom ha shabbat li kadsho” remember Shabbos & keep it holy. Our kiddush cup has borne witness to almost 80 years of shabbosess remembered and kept holy, beginning in 1928 when my great grandfather received the cup as a wedding gift from his parents. It has presided over Friday night dinners in Germany, Saturday lunches in Poland and many yuntifs in New York, moving with my family as they traveled across the globe, running from Hitler’s Nazi regime. The cup embodies the strength and perseverance of my great grandfather and is a testament to his commitment to Jewish life. After my great grandfather’s death, the Kiddush cup and its history were passed on to my father, who in turn relayed its story to my sister and me. And one shabbos afternoon, im yirtzah hashem, my sister and I will gather our children round and tell them about the adventures of the Holy Grail.

--Suffern, NY

Matzah Cover

The banging on the door with accompanying shouts of “FIRE! FIRE!” came at 4:30 in the morning this past October 5. Frantically reaching for bathrobes and slippers, Midge and I– still half asleep– clasped hands and lunged for the front door.

Rose Hollow Drive was jam-packed with police cars and their flashing, rotating lights. There were several fire fighting vehicles, extending ladders with firemen rushing to position their equipment. Streams of water from many fire hoses were directed to the fire. From the roof of our building, billowing clouds of black smoke were being highlighted by the 15-foot flames reaching to the sky. The entire scene was illuminated by batteries of floodlights, car headlights, workers rushing in all directions with powerful flashlights.

The heat from the flames was so intense that streams fo water were being directed to the adjacent building to prevent spreading of the fire even as the occupants were directed to leave their building.

Standing in the curb across from our home with my arm around Midge’s shoulder the bewilderment began turning to comprehension as this terrible event continued to develop. It was then that I realized that my other arm was clasping a picture frame that evidently I had removed from a wall as we rushed out of danger.

This was a specially constructed frame for a long honored possession of the Greenberg family, the traditional Passover matzah cover. The warmth that rose within me, as I became aware of this, was almost as hot as the flames. I could feel my parents’ (of blessed memory) arms on me as I remembered the contents.

Romania is where this object was created. The year, 1903, is included in the beautifully stitched Passover matzah cover my mother created as a part of her wedding dowry. This key accessory is a basic must for every Passover Seder table setting where the holiday is observed and celebrated.

In reds and pinks, flowers highlight the garland design connected with different shades of green for the leaves. Contained in the center, the stitching spells out the traditional closing phrase in Hebrew, Next Year in Jerusalem. The closing prayer in every Passover Seder throughout the world.

This treasured family keepsake is on view throughout the year, and we remove it from its frame for the Passover celebration. It has been used in the Greenberg family each year since its creation. The other colors in the fabric are undoubtedly from accidents and spills from ceremonial wines, red horseradish and even chicken soup that occurred during the 90 years it has been in use.

If one were to plan an emergency escape from a burning building– which wouldn’t be such a bad idea– jewelry, clothing, books, bank records would undoubtedly be included in a priority list. Yet, unplanned, here, I stood, protecting the Greenberg matzah cover. A human interest tale that will become part of the history of the very special object. Surely there is substance for a sermon in this story.

--Yardley, PA

Spice Box

After the death of his youngest sister in Stuttgart, Germany my father thought deeply about the meaning of life and death, and the idea of becoming a rabbi became a calling. So, the 17-year-old Karl Richter, with youthful enthusiasm, decided to do his university--- as well as rabbinical studies--- at the seminary in Breslau. The year was 1928.

Like most students he had very little money to spare since everything was spent on books and life’s necessities, but one day, when walking past a tiny shop, he spied a beautiful silver Habdalah spice box. The little tower with the flag on top beckoned to him, so he convinced the owner of the shop that he would bring a few extra coins each week to pay for it, because the little spice box had captured his heart.

Karl Richter met his wife Ruth in 1933, they were married in 1935, and he accepted a pulpit in Stettin, Germany.

Every Saturday night the Habdalah spices would sweeten the air as they acknowledged the departure of the Sabbath Queen, and they would live ordinary lives until the following Shabbat. From 1933 to 1939 my parents heard the threats against the Jewish people, but did not believe them. The world heard the threats but did not listen.

On January 1938, my father packed his books and his precious spice box to accept the position in the main synagogue, as one of the two remaining communal rabbis in Mannheim, an industrial city on the Rhine River. A young man, ordained only three years before, he found himself entrusted with grave responsibilities.

In 1938 the hostile government raised anti-Semitism to its central article of faith and all hope was shattered. Now, the young rabbi and his wife had a 2-year old toddler, and their world had gone mad. The smell of the sweet spices of the Habdalah box gave little comfort because Shabbat prayers for peace seemed futile.

On the 10th of November, 1983 the great destruction began. Kristallnacht announced total war against the Jewish people.

Although it was difficult to emigrate, many people helped the Richters to escape to the United States in 1939. They brought few belongings with them, but the precious spice box was spared.

As a small child, I can remember opening the door of the box, putting in the cloves, and imagining the departing Sabbath Queen sprinkling prayers of peace in her path.

On November 9, 1988 my father spoke at a commemoration of Kristallnacht at the Kaufman Concert Hall of New York’s 92nd Street Y. A mini-van then transported my parents to the airport for the flight to Mannheim where my father, now in his mid-80s spoke at the dedication of the new synagogue.

Karl Richter, the last surviving graduate of the Seminary in Breslau, died September 25, 2005. I now have the precious spice box that he purchased those many years ago, and I remember the words he said upon his return to Mannheim in 1988:

“May the flame of hatred be extinguished forever. May we be blessed with the flame of hope, the flame of love and the flame of reconciliation.”

--Tucson, AZ



I read about the Judaica contest in the paper and thought about my candelabra that was bought by my grandfather David Davidovic in Cologne Germany in 1930. He was raising his 3 girls in Germany when Hitler came to power and started arresting jews at their homes they were forced to flee in the middle of the night. Taking very little with them. The candelabra went to Paris.
He and the family escaped in 1937 to Paris, France with his family and the candelabra. In France he thought he would be safe to raise his family.
Once Hitler invaded France he was again forced to flee and left at night in a railcar to go to the south of France with his family and the cadelabra. After the war he remained in France and his daughter (my mother Marie Bienstock) and my father (Jack) came to the USA , Paterson N.J. to start with me and my brother.
The candelabra remained in France until my grandparents were able to come to the states in 1954.
One photo shows this magnificent piece, the other photo shows my grandparents in France in 1952 celebrating Hanukah with my photo of me in front of the candlabra.The photo shows that they were missing us in the USA.
My parents are both well into their 80's the candelabra has been given to me and sits in the livingroom of my house. It is an heirloom and my daughter Danielle will inherit next. We have put a laminated papeer inside the candelabra so futue generations will know the story of the traveling cendelabra.

--Oakland N.J.

Kiddush Cup


I am a convert to Judaism- 3 in Jewish years. But … I have Jewish blood coursing through my veins. My great-grandfather came to America at the turn of the 20th century to escape the tsarist pogroms of Russia… He hid his Jewishness from the family he married into and never chose to speak about it…two years ago, I drank from my great-grandfathers Kiddush cup, one of the few items he chose to take with him in hopes of a better life. The Kiddush cup sat in a dusty Brooklyn basement for 93 years until it ended up in the hands of his great-grandson. Me, his Jewish great-grandson… If my Japanese father, who was a small boy in Hirohito’s Japan during World War 2 can sit next to (my wife’s) zaydie, a Holocaust escapee from Hungary at our wedding 60 years after the Holocaust, then anything is possible.


My grandfather's sister, Chana Wiesenthal Herzog, made this tapestry and sent it to him on the occasion of his marriage in 1917. The exquisite needlework of Chanshe=s 48" by 22" tapestry includes her brother's initials AJW,@ for Jacob Wiesenthal.
Grandpa Jake had emigrated to America in 1909. Chanshe had refused to take the ocean voyage that would have required her to travel on Shabbat. She and her family stayed in Europe, in a Galician shtetl called Jagielnica. Chanshe, her husband Yitzchak, and their children Tuviya, Feiga, Leah, and Rachel perished in the Holocaust. The one photograph that we have of them, with Grandpa's poignant Yiddish inscription that they died for the Holy Name, is a family treasure.
Grandpa gave me Chanshe's tapestry in the 1970s. In 1984, I founded and became President of an international, all-volunteer organization for the benefit of Jews in the Caucasus and Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. We have been blessed to rescue thousands of Jews from these mostly Muslim republics. As the sign above my desk says, kol yisrael aravim zeh b'zeh --- all Jews are responsible for one another. Chanshe's tapestry, which hangs in my office, inspires me daily --- an insistent reminder that we must do whatever is necessary to ensure the survival of our people.

--Delray Beach, FL

Passover Bowl

Ever since I was a little girl, I was always interested in hearing the stories of my parents' posessions, e.g., where the furniture was purchased, where "this" came form, or where "that" came from. No one else in my family seemed to be interested, especially to the extent that I was. Later, I attended and graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology where I studied Interior Design.It was there that my eyes truly became more discerning to the heirlooms that were not being appreciated by my family members.
When I began furnishing my first home in 1967, I asked different family members if I could be the "keeper" of these unappreciated pieces. What was once people's discards became my treasured pieces.Then, in the late 1970s, my Great Aunt Rae gave me the "piece de resistance," my Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandmother's bowl, stamped "Made in Germany, 1755." It was brought to America in the late 1800s by my Great Grandmother. I was told the bowl was only used during Passover (so the story goes). Thats how it survived. It was given to me because Great Aunt Rae recognized my love of our family heirlooms and knew I would treasure it always.
My mission now is to pass the legacy on to a deserving family member.

--Delray Beach, FL