Chanukah on a pedestal

Due to the growth of a dense passion fruit forest on the front fence blocking our window, to make it visible to people on the Jerusalem street, last evening we perched our traditional brass Chanukah menorah up on a stack of used-up organic techina buckets covered with a tablecloth. From outside, it shone rebellion, bravado, zeal, improbable autonomy.

Today, as I pass by on my way to a bookshelf in the living room, I notice the menorah.

The menorah was bequeathed to us by a young student, David, on his way out of Cambridge after graduation. He had left it visibly in the window of the rented apartment he was vacating. We asked whether he had forgotten it when we happened to be walking by and saw him closing the door with an air of finality.

The car is too full, he said. I don’t have space on my long westward road.

I slipped my hand into the back of the packed car and compacted a bit of an opening. David shook his head. Reluctantly, we accepted it. For safekeeping.

He walked me up the steps and unlocked the door one last time. I entered. The menorah stood alone, the sole object remaining of his former home. I approached tentatively, my steps echoing in the hollow room. Wrapping my hand around the stem below the branches, I uprooted it from the wooden ledge. It felt cold, old-world, tarnished. Probably, it had been passed on generation-to-generation in David’s family.

While we were in Cambridge, each year before the festival, we contacted David to ask whether we could send him the menorah, whether he would take it back.



In our Jerusalem apartment, high on its fuschia-colored cloth-bedecked pedestal on the stone window-sill, the menorah seems monumental. I think of Titus’ triumphant arch.

Titus' MenoraA couple of summers ago on the 9th of Av, we sat at the foot of the massive stone victory monument amidst the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum, singing Lamentations. Once, the Romans had slaughtered and pillaged. They carried away thousands of Jews into slavery and exile. And the Temple menorah.

I remark to myself how mistaken was Titus’ brutal victory and sacking of Jerusalem, and how miraculous is our home here.

While our world is bathed in innocent blood spilled by unfathomable hatred and evil, this evening, armed with olive oil from the kitchen and cloth threads from outworn garments of priests, we again kindle tiny flames. The light of the shamash does not diminish passing fire to the steadily growing line-up of delicate soldiers gathering each night in David’s menorah on our techina-bucket pillar.

חנוכיה מבחוץ
photo by Amitai Haberman-Browns

Don’t let the light go out.

About the Author
The late Bonna Devora Haberman is author of 'Israeli Feminism Liberating Judaism: Blood and Ink' and 'ReReading Israel: The Spirit of the Matter,' National Jewish Book Award finalist. Dr. Haberman taught at Harvard, Brandeis and Hebrew universities. In Jerusalem, she initiated Women of the Wall, a 25 year strong movement for women's full participation and leadership of public religious practice. -- Dr. Haberman died on June 16, 2015.
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