December 18, 2003
Bubbie’s Menorah Miracle
Bubbie, my sweet grandmother, is a small woman, barely 5-feet tall. Her candelabra wasn't just a candleholder used for the Sabbath and Chanukah lights. It was a family symbol; a magnet that brought family and friends together. On Sabbath evenings Bubbie would don a special Shabbos kerchief. With great fanfare she would light each candle. When she finished lighting the last candle she stood in front of the candelabra and clenched her eyes; tears ran down her cheeks. She prayed for her husband, her married children and her grandchildren. She spoke in Yiddish, "Her mien tinere tata heat mien kinder un de eynikloch" (Dearest Father, God watch and protect my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. May it be Your will that they grow up to be good people and are loyal to our religion. Please grant my dear husband a livelihood and patience. Watch over us all.).
We all stood by the Shabbos table in awe. Bubbie looked like a queen speaking to the King of Kings, the Almighty God. When she finished her prayer, we began our Sabbath.
As our family grew, Bubbie spent more time with her candles. By the time she reached the beginning of her 96th birthday, Bubbie had many married grandchildren who also had children. There were five generations in Bubbie's family. When lighting the candles, Bubbie prayed for each family member.
Her candelabra was made of solid silver with a heavy silver base. It was 2-feet tall. Year round it had three branches of two candlesticks. In the middle was a stem for another candle. The traditional custom for Shabbos eve is to light one candle each for the father, mother and children. As each child is born, another candle is added. Throughout the year Bubbie's candelabra was fitted for five candles.
During the week of Chanukah she added another branch of two candlesticks each, making a total of nine candles. The candelabra was built in such a way that the candle holders could be removed and oil cups could be inserted for the special lighting on Chanukah. Our Shabbos candelabra became a menorah.
During Chanukah the prized candelabra was given to my grandfather. He used it to fulfill the commandment of lighting candles for the holiday. Chanukah was the happiest time for the family. All the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to Bubbie and Zadie to receive holiday gifts of Chanukah gelt and joined in the lighting of the menorah.
Imagine the menorah lit with nine candles shining in its glory. Zadie stood like a Kohen, the Jewish high priest, when he lit it. He would be dressed in a special fur hat, called a streimel, with a magnificent long, silk caftan.
When Zadie died, Bubbie would spend her winters in Miami Beach. She took her candelabra with her. Every Shabbos, Bubbie would polish it and pray, "May my mazel (luck) always shine!"
All this came to an end when someone stole her candelabra. Bubbie was livid. Her small body shook like a willow in a storm as she spoke about her most prized possession. How could anyone steal it? Her only concern was how she would light her candles.
She believed it would return.
"I have prayed that the menorah would protect us and I'm sure that the menorah has done just that. Now I pray that the menorah protect itself and be returned to me."
With silent determination she prayed and prayed. We, the family, did not know what to do. Unexpectedly, a childhood friend from Austria, Bubbie's birthplace, visited us and announced, "I have never seen another menorah like yours until today. I always wondered if there was a second majestic menorah. Surprisingly I just saw a menorah just like yours in the window of a gift store. It is a replica of yours."
We were dumbfounded. Could it be that our guest had seen the stolen menorah? Bubbie jumped up and said, "Let's get my menorah back! It soon will be Chanukah and I need the menorah."
Bubbie, my parents, Bubbie's girlfriend and a policeman made their way to the gift shop. With a gleam in her eyes and a shout of joy Bubbie pointed to the menorah and said, "Yes, you have done well. You have protected us and now you have protected yourself. Come back home to my family and me."
Before anyone could say anything, Bubbie grabbed the menorah off the shelf and held it close to her heart. Nobody was going to stop her. Neighbors, Jewish and non-Jewish, joined her in her triumphant walk home. The closer she got to her home, the more people that joined her. Bubbie, dressed in the European manner, with her slight frame carrying a menorah that was almost as big as her, with a procession of excited family and friends following, was a sight to see. It truly was a Chanukah parade. The owner of the shop was flabbergasted.
Needless to say, the menorah was given a special cleaning. It became the most respected object of our Bubbie's home. That Chanukah was the brightest in Bubbie's home. Who says that miracles can't happen anymore?
Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita.