Stones From Temple Mount

As the van rumbled and bumped over the sand, I was still complaining about going. By going, I thought I was "signing up" for an unexciting day that I would get nothing out of. I was 12 years old and this was my families' first trip to Israel. We were going to sort bits and pieces from the Temple Mount that the Arabs had escalated to enlarge their mosque and dumped somewhere. I was upset that we would be sorting priceless artifacts and wouldn't be able to keep a single one. Oh, how wrong I was! We finally arrived at a large tent with sifters along the sides. At the back of the tent there was a presentation waiting for us. The staff showed us the history of the Temple Mount-from the Canaanites to the Israelites to the Romans to the Muslims and Crusaders. It was fascinating! Then the employees told us how to sort the artifacts-one jar for the mosaics, one for the glass, and one for the clay. Then they assigned us sifters and we got to work. The "work" was actually incredibly fun. It was unbelievable to actually be handling pieces of history, things that you would look at in a museum behind thick glass. I was humiliated when I actually thanked my dad for something I had so objected to at first.

While I was watching what was being done with the artifacts, I noticed that the most precious things of all, the unaltered stones from the temple mount, were just being tossed outside to be discarded. But what value they held, they were the stones that G-d had promised us. My forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had walked on. That King David had fought for, that King Solomon had built the temple on, and King Harod had expanded the temple on, that Jews over the centuries had cried over. They are the stones that my forefathers had for generations, been praying to be able to see and to ascend on. They were the most precious things in the of the excavation, but they had been put out as ordinary rocks. We asked the head of the excavation, if we would be able to take a few, and she agreed. They are proudly displayed in a glass bowl, to remind me of G-d's promise, our history, our future and unexpected endings.

--New Hempstead, NY

Silver Candlesticks

My grandmother, Rose, came to America in 1905, never to see her family again, and met my grandfather soon after arriving. Her mother, my great grandmother, sent her a wedding gift: A beautiful pair of silver candlesticks.

The candlesticks became Rose’s most precious and valuable possession. She faced terribly hard times, but never parted with them, although there were many instances when the money they would have brought would have been very welcome.

While in her twenties, Rose was left a widow with four young children, and no family to rely on for help. She worked hard, doing anything she could to feed her family. Her sons began working when they were not yet ten years old. Yet in spite of the poverty they faced, the candlesticks were on the table every Friday night, as a symbol of love and hope. Even though this family never had many material possessions, they were close-knit and happy, and my mother related many stories depicting the happiness and laughter that permeated her childhood.

The depression passed, the children grew up, and the financial situation eased. However, lack of poverty did not bring happiness. In the midst of WWII, Rose’s youngest son was on his way home for Rosh Hashana, having obtained a ten day pass for the holiday. With a train ticket in his pocket, he was offered a place on an army transport plane, which would get him home several days earlier. The plane arrived at its first destination without a problem, yet after take-off for the second leg of its trip, got only sixty feet in the air when it exploded, killing all on board. Rose lost so much that day; not only her son, but her faith, and her will to live. When Rose contracted stomach cancer a few years later, her death came quickly.

My mother had married just a few months before Rose’s death, and the candlesticks were now in her home. Although the deaths of her brother and mother nearly destroyed her faith, they were lit every week, not as a sign of religious observance, but as a way to connect her to her past, to those she loved and missed so much. I grew up knowing that one day the candlesticks would be mine, part of my history and legacy.

Although I grew up in a traditional, but not religious, Jewish home, I returned to Orthodoxy while in my teens. When I got my first apartment, I asked for the candlesticks, knowing that I would always light them, on time, to welcome the Sabbath, as they were intended to be used. My mother would not even consider it, insisting that no one would ever get those candlesticks while she was alive. When I married, I again asked for the candlesticks, the reason being that I did not want to get them only because my mother died. Instead, I wanted to have them when she could see me use and enjoy them, but she once again refused.

Life, however, takes some unexpected turns. My mother, a victim of Alzheimer’s, moved into a nursing home. For the first few months, she asked repeatedly about the candlesticks, often calling in the middle of the night, unable to rest until she was sure they were safe. When her mental status deteriorated to the point that she forgot about them, I knew that I had lost her forever. When she died, I had the image of the candlesticks engraved on her headstone, the one way that she would forever be close to them.

I am finally in possession of the beloved heirlooms, but have never been able to bring myself to light them, even after her death, and they remain locked in a safe.

Perhaps anticipating the ongoing disagreement regarding the candlesticks, a much loved cousin gave me a pair of my own when I turned sixteen. It is these candlesticks that I light weekly now. My youngest daughter is named for this cousin, and we only recently realized the connection. Her name, Meira, means “a shining light”.

We are now planning Meira’s Bat Mitzvah, and she has chosen to learn about the mitzvah of Hadlikat HaNerot, lighting the candles. At her celebration, I am going to give her the candlesticks that were given to me by my cousin, the wonderful woman for whom she is named. Then I will resume lighting the candlesticks that have been passed down from generation to generation in my family, and will do so not with sadness, because I have lost my mother, but with joy, because my youngest daughter will now be recognized as an adult, by HaShem and Klal Yisrael.

--Teaneck, NJ


Sephardic Borekas

From the glorious days of Renaissance Spain to the expulsion of the Jews during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, our ancestors, originally from Zaragoza, Spain, fled to Greece and Turkey, essentially leaving everything behind except for Jewish traditions and memories. At the end of WW II and the Holocaust, the Saragoussi family again immigrated in the 1950s, this time, to the US seeking a better quality of life. With cherished family possessions lost or stolen during the war, my family arrived in New York City by way of the Italian ocean liner, Andrea Doria, with only clothes-filled suitcases, traditions, and memories. One of those saved traditions is the rich, unchanged recipes of delicious Sephardi cuisine. Borekas, a Sephardic delight and staple whose unwritten recipe has passed through the many hands of the Saragoussi family, are still lovingly prepared and savored in our family’s homes today.

I remember watching my Turkish-born grandmother, Nona, who journeyed with our family to America and lived with us during her twilight years, preparing all the ingredients to make the tasty borekas. With nothing more than a fork, knife, bowl, a smooth glass cup (used to cut and roll the dough), and her strong, skillful hands, Nona would swiftly prepare the dough, then mix chopped beef OR feta or kashkaval (a robust Greek yellow cheese), or even merenjena (eggplant) with eggs, scallions, and a dash of pepper into a bowl. Then, one by one, she would flatten the small rounds of dough, fill and form the half-moon shaped borekas. Depending on the filling, Nona sealed the edges of the dough differently to identify its contents – cheese edged with fork marks, meat finished with the edge tightly twisted. Finally, once the borekas were arranged on the baking sheet, Nona would dip her fingers into the egg wash and carefully “brush” the top of each boreka. A half-hour later, with the house filled with the familiar scent of freshly baked pastries, my sisters and I would congregate in the kitchen, eagerly waiting for Nona to serve us fresh, hot borekas.

What makes these unique and delicious Sephardic pastelles so meaningful and so part of our family’s Jewish identity is, unlike the foods of Eastern European Jews, the Sephardi incorporated ingredients available in the Mediterranean region – feta cheese or eggplant. More importantly, my Nona, and now my mother, aunts, and my sisters and I, all prepare borekas for Shabbat meals, Jewish holiday gatherings, and as a special treat for company – a way in which our family shares our rich Sephardi tradition with guests.

Borekas were and are still such an important family food, that we bring them on trips, picnics, school and work lunches. We have even sent them through the mail to our children in college! As our latest family’s generation is further removed from the original Zaragoza family, all of my living relatives continue to bake with our youngest family members passing on the tradition of making delicious borekas – using the same ingredients and skillful hands!


Shabbat Lamp

“Would you like a Sabbath lamp that used to belong to your grandfather?”

“Heavens yes!” I replied to my aunt, calling from Seattle.

Why me? flitted through my head, but I knew the answer. My aunt’s one child was no longer Jewish. I was the “religious fanatic” of the family. That meant that we lit Shabbat candles, recited Kiddush, and sent our son, the only child old enough for school, to Hillel Academy. My aunt didn’t know – and maybe we didn’t either, yet – that we were on our way to keeping kosher.

The 19th century Sabbath lamp proved to be almost identical to one my husband and I had admired in the Milwaukee Public Museum. Its tapered, fluted vessel held enough oil to light a room far into the night. Originally the oil had flowed into arms that radiated horizontally to form an eight-pointed star. Hooked to the center point was a drip catcher. By the time I received it, a thick electrical cord almost obscured the square-linked chain on which it hung, and round light bulbs had replaced the wicks.

When my mother saw the lamp hanging in our Milwaukee living room, she recognized it instantly despite the updated plastic wiring and thin, flame-like bulbs.

“When I was a child, this used to hang in an alcove off the living room,” she told me. “Before dinner on Fridays, Dad would saunter over and click on the light.”

Knowing that Friday had been just another night for her privileged, Reform family, I was intrigued. I asked my grandmother, then in her lively, opinionated nineties, to verify Mom’s little-girl recollection. “No such thing!” She remembered the lamp, but the Friday-night detail had escaped either her notice or her memory.

My grandfather, whom I knew only as a photograph on my grandmother’s dresser, must have been a forward-thinking man to electrify this lamp in the early 1900s. Yet, judging by my mother’s account, he had clung to a piece of the tradition that had motivated his family to carry the lamp across the ocean in the mid-1800s from Bavaria to the far western shores of the new world.

This family heirloom became important to my family’s growing Sabbath observance. As each child grew tall enough to reach the switch, turning it on before Shabbat became his or her special job.

Now, each week I click on the Shabbat lamp before holding a match to my white candles. Past merges with present as I circle the flames with my hands to draw their light and serenity into my soul. I say the blessing, then pray silently for the people I love.

Four decades after I first unwrapped it, the Sabbath lamp glows long after my candles have burned out. Someday, it will light a child or grandchild’s home, a symbol of this recovered tradition that will, I hope, continue to my grandchildren’s grandchildren and beyond.

--Rochester, New York


Kiddush Cups

I am a Holocaust survivor from Eastern Poland. After liberation I returned to my hometown hoping to find remnants of my family, but it was not to be.

I had no possessions, not even a blanket or a pillow. I remembered that my parents gave some items that they were able to hide from the Nazis to our former Ukrainian maid for safekeeping.

Literally taking my life in my hands again, I set out on foot to the village where she lived. There were rumors that survivors who tried to retrieve their possessions often did not get what was rightfully theirs and were brutally killed, but that did not stop me.

When I entered her cottage, she crossed herself and murmured a prayer. Did she think I was a ghost or was she happy I survived? I explained that I only came to get some bedding and that I did not want anything else. I did not know what my parents left with her.

She started to take out silverware, knickknacks, and my parent’s precious Kiddush cups. I immediately recognized the familiar pieces. My throat closed, I could not utter a word. Memories flooded my mind of my mom lovingly polishing my father’s Kiddush cup, her cup and the cup used for Elijah the prophet on Passover. I cried bitterly, touching each piece, as, in my mind I saw clearly my father lifting the cup and saying the blessing over the wine.

The cups and the tray are all I have left from a home rich in Jewish tradition – my parent’s legacy. Although our maid was willing to give me other things, I took only these items and some bedding since I did not know where I would go or how I would live.

From that day on, the cups were with me through all the hardships that came. The journey was not easy to leave Europe and build a new life out of the ashes. I was married for 44 years to a loving man who also believed in tradition. Together we raised a wonderful family.

The Kiddush cups graced our table on holidays and special occasions. Recently my grandson got married and he and his lovely bride drank wine from my father’s cup under the “Chuppa”.

I hope my daughter and son, and their children after them, will cherish the Kiddush cups as tribute to their grandparents and great-grandparents.

--Upper Montclair, NJ


Kiddush Cup

"Do you have The Cup?," my father asked me, panicking that we could not find The Cup. This was the Friday night after my older son's bris, which had taken place that morning. The Cup has been used for generations for such occasions and my father had my brother bring it from New York to Pittsburgh to continue this tradition. The Cup was on the dining room table, safe and sound, but we were all a bit nervous until it returned to its proper home in Far Rockaway.

This silver Kiddush cup belonged to my great great great great great grandfather. No, those are not typos. My 5th great grandfather Joseph Strauss was born in 1750 and died in 1827 in Schollkrippen Germany. We don't know at what point he received the cup and we don't know how he acquired it, although it may have been made for the family as we had silversmiths amongst our kin. What we do know is that it has been passed down from son to son again and again for seven generations. The silver on this simple yet elegant cup has been worn down from usage over the years. These days, The Cup only comes out for brit milah and for Pesach. But it is a living thing in our family and needs to be used, even if only sparingly, to keep it healthy and well.

The first known instance of its use was for the bris of my great grandfather, Louis Strauss in Schollkrippen. It was used for the bris of my grandfather and of my great uncle in Schollkrippen. But in April of 1938, the conditions in Germany forced my Opa out of his small town and The Cup was one of the few pieces he was allowed (and encouraged by his parents) to take with him to his new home in the United States. He
married and continued the tradition by using it at the brit milahs of his two sons. It was used at the bris of my brother and again more recently at the brit milahs of my two sons, the younger of whom was born in July of 2007 and is named for my Opa and his brother. I know that the grandfathers of my family would be thrilled to know that their Cup has seen the family through so many simchas. May the tradition and The Cup continue for many generations to come.

-Pittsburgh, PA


Spice Box

Jewish ceremonial objects made of carved wood from pre-war Europe are extremely scarce. This spice tower is of the utmost rarity, as European spice towers that have survived the millennia were made in brass or silver. With a great deal of skill, the artist of this piece carved two separate pieces of wood, so that the entire top half can be lifted off, and spices inserted. This tower, with its delicately carved spires, is topped by a flag upon which has a Star of David. Each side of the tower also has a Star of David. This rare survival of Polish-Jewish woodcarving is intact only because it arrived at Ellis Island over 100 years ago. I purchased this tower from an elderly woman in 2003. She received it from her mother-in-law on her wedding day in 1952. Her mother-in-law had owned it since she was a young woman, it being a gift from her grandfather, who carved it while living in Poland, the land of his birth, and later brought it with him on his trip to America. This elderly woman was quite sad to part with it, as she first offered it to her children as an heirloom, but they did not want it, even stating “its junk, throw it away”. This lady told me that she thought it must have some value due to its age, so she kept it, until I made her acquaintance, and purchased it from her.

Not only am I happy that this woman “rescued it” from the trash, but that through fate, or more likely, “Divine Intervention”, I was able to buy it, as I appreciate its rarity and importance. On a personal note, my maternal grandmother was born and raised in the town of Oswiecim, which is in Poland. If this town sounds familiar, it’s because that is where the infamous concentration camp Auschwitz was created. My grandmother, Nechama Fleisher, survived five years (!), of slave labor at various camps in Poland and what is the present day Czech Republic. For me to own this rare piece of Jewish woodcarving from Poland, the birthplace of my grandmother, and my other relatives who did not survive the Holocaust, means the world to me.

-Long Beach, NY



Pictured lighting candles from left to right P.G.(mother), S.S. daughter) and P.S(grandma)

P.S.’s Aunt Ruth (of blessed memory) received the candlesticks from her mother before leaving Russia as a teenager just after the turn of the century. Ruth never married and on the occasion of P.S.'s 25th wedding anniversary, Ruth gave the candlesticks to her. Subsequently, P.S. has given them to her oldest daughter P.G. S.S, our daughter, seen in the center will one day receive them from P.G.

These candlesticks often adorn our table for Shabbat and holidays, which we typically share with .....[extended family.]

Also shown is a wine cup from P.G's Grandfather , the challah cutting board, which we purchased in Aruba on our honeymoon and a ... Siddur, which we use to recite the blessings.

-Annandale, Virginia