The stars all aligned for this one, and I couldn’t think of a better time to write this article. I have been waiting for a time to write on a huge part of my life, and with Hanukkah coming up, it already felt right. On top of that, my Grandpa got (re)bar mitzvahed, turned 83, and celebrated his 60th wedding anniversary all in the same month. So, sorry everyone, but this article is dedicated specifically to them. (Shoutout Barry and Linda!)
Unfortunately with the end of the semester and being a dual major, I didn’t get to do as much research as I would have liked on this subject, but it’s a start and I am so excited to learn more. As most Art History majors probably find, the majority of preserved and talked about art tends to cater towards the church. Not that this is a bad thing, but I have always craved more diversity. I was lucky enough to grow up in a multicultural home, so I am determined to proudly present that part of myself.
You don’t have to be Jewish to learn the story and light a candle or two, or eight, in remembrance.
I started on the idea of researching ancient menorahs, as Hanukkah starts so early this year, and it led down a fantastic road. I found engravings as far back as the 1st century depicting menorahs and ceremonies surrounding them, and as time moved on representations just got more and more elaborate. I browsed for quite a while, before coming across a menorah intricately decorated with Judith and Holofernes, and I of course had to dive in there. From that, I found The Berger Collection in the Jewish Museum of Vienna. Every single piece in this collection deserves its own article, let me tell you. Picking just a few to talk about was literally torture.
Out of all of the collection, I knew of course I had to pick a menorah. While all of them were beautiful, a particular one from 1880 caught my eye. It was made in Vienna and appears to be gold plated. The center panel has two lions on either side of what looks like was meant to be the Torah, and the two outer panels have doves and various plant life. What I love so much about this one is the unconventional placement of the candle holders. Usually, the Shamash candle (the candle used to light all the other Hanukkah candles is raised in the center, but in this case it is raised all the way over to the right. I am determined to find out more about this piece! I haven’t been able to find much yet, but I’m willing to be patient. If my Winnie the Pooh menorah at home wasn’t so cool, I would want to use this one. (I know you all are jealous, its okay. My siblings are too.)
It’s almost as if I was meant to find this collection because it also had the most amazing wedding pieces–perfect for, I don’t know, a wedding anniversary perhaps? Particularly, there’s a wedding ring made from somewhere between 1800 and 1850, by an unknown person in an unknown place. Even though we don’t know this ring’s original home, it feels like home. That could be of course because of the building on top of it in place of a diamond, but that’s beside the point. My best guess is that this represented the couples’ Temple, but I like to think it also stood for the home that they were about to build together in the eyes of their community.
Seeing such personal pieces like this really reminds me of how much we’re missing when we only talk about one culture’s customs, traditions, and art. I’m so lucky to live a life where I get constant reminders to step back, open my eyes, and look around for a bit outside of what I know. I encourage you all this Hanukkah season to do the same. You don’t have to be Jewish to learn the story and light a candle or two, or eight, in remembrance. But I will say, whatever you do end up doing, will never be as awesome as my childhood menorah.