Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shabbat: the Gift of Connection

To this day, I don’t know how the brown paper wrapped package arrived at my friend Aviva’s house.  I looked at the British stamps, tore off the wrapping and dug through wads of tissue paper to find a single brass candlestick.  I stood it on the table, stared at the candlestick’s three arched feet and carefully carved body.  There were no markings on the bottom.  Mystified, I turned to the card which bore wedding congratulations from Lisette, an old family friend from before my parents had taken on Jewish observance.  She’d known me since I was a little girl.
In my polite but puzzled thank-you note I asked if there was a “story” behind this single candlestick.  There was.
Lisette stemmed from a titled Austrian family but married Ben, a Jew from Poland.  In 1939, five days before Rosh Hashanah, the Nazis invaded his hometown of Radom on Shabbat.  A short time later they set fire to the city’s shul.  Somehow Ben’s mother gained access to the shul, carrying out one candlestick.  It had been one of a pair, lit every erev Shabbat by the shul’s shammash.  Its mate, like Europe’s Jews, perished in the conflagration.

Radom's main shul.  In its place a monument now stands

This was my gift.  Lisette had entrusted me with a mute survivor.
Some Fridays as I light my candles I feel the weight of responsibility this small candlestick carries with it. Or I think of Ben and his mother, and the shammash of Radom.  Other times I marvel at the soul connection that can transcend time and space, between bodies that have never met. 

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