The Antique European Hannukiah

5 Jan

When my husband’s mother died in 1984,  we were given the opportunity to chose some of her personal items.  My husband and I were the only children who were dedicated to having a Jewish family, so we took most of the Jewish religious items, including this Hannukiah that belonged to his grandparents.

My mother-in-law told me that  was her father’s and had come with her parents from Europe in the early 1900s.  This was the Hannukiah the family used when she grew up. It was the item she chose to keep after her father died, when she was 16.

I know it is bronze.   I know that once it burned oil, as the dark burn stains still are visible.  But we have never used it.

Years ago, when I went to the Jewish Museum on 92nd Street, in New York City, I purchased a book entitled, Treasures of The Jewish Museum, published in 1986.  While looking through the book, I discovered on page 66, a hanukkiah much like ours.  It said it came from Spain or France and was first used in the end of the 13th or beginning of the 14th century.  The book says, “The gabled end of a Gothic catherdral, rose window and all, was the model for the backplates of the first pendant lamps.”

I remember thinking, impossible.  But it is so similar.  The only difference was that on the museum hannukah lamp, the shamash area was elevated, instead of off to the side, as in our design.

And so the hanukkiah stayed on my book shelf as a decoration along with  other, more modern ones,  that joined the collection over the years.  But that was it.   I never did any follow up.  As long as it was part of the family’s lore and history, that was more than enough for me.

Until this past December, when I went to Israel for a visit.  While there, I spent the day at the Israel Museum with my daughter’s mother-in-law.  As a resident of the Jerusalem area,  she has visited the museum many times.  She suggested we take an English tour of the permanent exhibit.  So we did.  We were the only two who signed up for it.  Lucky for us, we had a private 90-minute tour of the museum.

Since it was close to Hanukkah, the guide took us to see the collection of Hannukiot/hanukkah lamps that the museum owns:  covering many centuries and many countries.  There, on the wall, the very first one, was an exact duplicate of my husband’s grandfather’s Hannukiah!  The one that came from Europe and that he had used when studying medicine in France during the late 1800s.  Wow.

I asked our guide about that Hannukiah, as the touch screen was not working.  She said it was the oldest Hanukkah lamp that the Israel Museum owned.  She thought it came from the 17th century.

So to my husband’s Matassarin/Matassaru family in the USA and Israel: the family Hanukkiah survived.  It did not get destroyed in the Shoah.  No Leon brought it to the USA with him and his family, and used it with his children.

It has been an amazing journey for this centuries old work of Jewish religious ritual item. It traveled with my husband’s grandfather from his home in Hungary with him to medical school in France.  From there, he took it to England, where he met his wife and they had their first three children.  Onward to Canada and to the United States, where he settled in Kansas!   He served as a colonel in the US military in World War 1, then settled in Leavenworth, Kansas.  After he died, his daughter (child 8 of 10) had it in her home in St. Louis.  And finally it resides with us back in Kansas.

I am honored that this Antique European Hanukkiah lives with us.

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3 Responses to “The Antique European Hannukiah”

  1. Amy January 5, 2017 at 2:21 pm #

    Wow, that gave me the chills. Incredible.

    • zicharon January 5, 2017 at 2:29 pm #

      When I saw it in Jerusalem, I was shocked.

      • Amy January 5, 2017 at 2:34 pm #

        I can imagine! What a find!!

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