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.