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Pieces of History

Abby Delouya

"We are the story keepers…” Five family heirlooms from distant lands and the tales they tell

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

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WOVEN TOGETHER For my children, the kos is ancient. It has graced four generations of Seder tables and delighted four generations of children with its charm. For some, a flea market of 75 years ago is just as exotic as Russia of the 1930s, and to them, all that matters is that Zeidy’s kos is part of the intricate weaving of our family fabric

A bris pillow, a wine goblet, a dress passed down from mother to daughter, items treasured for their beauty and history. Family heirlooms whisper untold stories and testify to generations of family, and a chain of mesorah…

Alight with Prayers

Shabbos Lamp│Origin: Germany│Date: Mid-1800s

Erev Shabbos. Father has left for shul and our home, though always tidy, takes on a special gleam. My sisters and I have changed into our Shabbos frocks and we eagerly clamor around Mother as she lowers the brass lamp with the lever.

Mother wraps her sheitel with a white, delicate kerchief and she lights our Judenstern, our Shabbos lamp, with reverence and concentration. It holds special significance, as my grandmother’s family received it from mechutanim of the Wurzburger Rav. The brass sparkles as the wicks catch the flames. Mother holds her graceful hands over her face for a long time, swaying in prayer, asking that our family be protected and healthy. She davens that my father and brothers be successful in their learning, and that my sisters and I merit to marry bnei Torah. The lamp hangs, taking on central significance as the sun drops below charcoal clouds and our house descends into shadows. But our table is resplendent, draped in a snowy tablecloth, and the heady, yeasty smell from the challos tickles my nose.

I take my worn Tehillim, a bas mitzvah gift from my grandmother, and go to the window to wait for Father. The lamp sways above my head. Shabbos Kodesh fills the room, and I smile in the goodness of it all.

The generations pass in a cacophony of soaked Tehillim pages, broken glass, yearning, laughter, new beginnings, and multifarious endings, and the brass lamp is witness to it all. Though it becomes obsolete in function, it takes on greater significance as a tangible bond with one family’s yekkishe mesorah of avodas Hashem.

One evening, a granddaughter sits in the middle of her room, surrounded by overflowing suitcases, though her flight leaves in a few hours. Her heart soars as she imagines her upcoming seminary year — save for one part that’s exclusively reserved for Oma. She will miss her grandmother fiercely and in a flash, she thinks of the perfect surprise.

I was transported to El Jadida, Morocco, and I felt the loving presence of generations of women who had donned my dress. I fingered the spun gold, and as I traced along the delicate thread, I felt a part of my soul trace back those hundreds of years

She walks into the humid East Coast summer night air. A creamy moon hangs low. In a few blocks she reaches Oma’s home, punches in the code, and tiptoes into the elegant room. She takes out her supplies and spends the next hour meticulously shining the precious Judenstern that hangs near the dark wooden Shabbos table.

As she buffs the rounded holders, she envisions months ahead, when the family will light the lamp on Seder Night. As she polishes the pointed tips, she thinks of all the righteous women who have touched the lamp and she murmurs tefillos for her own future home, her family, for her grandmother and all the neshamos of women whose lives were illuminated by the cherished lamp.

When she finishes, the lamp gleams. She leaves a note for Oma. She can still feel the heaviness of the brass in her hands, and as she walks toward her future, she smiles in the goodness of it all.

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