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