The Chanukah menorah that Oakland resident Simone Sandler treasures is a magnificent work in 800-grade sterling silver, but that’s not what makes it special to her.
Bought in 1930 by her grandfather, David Davidovic, in Cologne, Germany, the menorah with removable parts accompanied the Davidovic family through its perilous wartime years.
Simone Sandler’s menorah has a long family history.
"He was raising his three girls in Germany when Hitler came to power and started arresting Jews," Sandler writes in her entry for the National Jewish Outreach Program’s Judaica Across America contest (www.judaicaacrossamerica.blogspot.com).
When Sandler’s grandfather and family fled in the middle of the night to Paris, the menorah was among the few possessions they took along. After Hitler invaded France in July of 194′, the Davidovics made a nighttime escape by railcar to the south of France. Their oldest daughter, Marie Sandler’s mother believes they left the menorah in the care of gentile neighbors and reclaimed it after the war.
Marie and and her husband, Jack Bienstock, eventually came to Paterson and the candelabra remained in Paris until her parents were able to come to the States in 1954.
"It was with them till they passed away," said Marie Bienstock, "and then it went to me. When I moved to a retirement village [in Pompton Plains], it went to my daughter Simone, our oldest. I hope one day her daughter will have a girl who will inherit it, so it will go from generation to generation of women."
With her entry, Sandler submitted a photo of her grandparents in France in 195′, celebrating Chanukah with her baby photo propped in front of the candelabrum. Today, it has a place of honor in her living room and includes a laminated paper tucked inside explaining its history.
This is just the kind of story the NJOP was seeking when it asked people to share images, essays, and videos describing how they came to possess precious items of Judaica and explaining what makes them meaningful.
"We are highlighting the beauty of our Jewish heritage and celebrating its preservation," said Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, NJOP’s founder and director. "Like a pair of candlesticks handed down for generations, Judaism is a priceless gift we have been given a gift we hope Jews across the nation will dust off and appreciate for the true value it brings into our homes and our lives."
The grand prize winner who will win a trip for two to Israel will be chosen at the end of this month from among 10 finalists by a panel of experts headed by appraiser and auctioneer Kerry Shrives of "Antiques Roadshow" fame. Shrives is vice president of Skinner, Inc., and director of the company’s Discovery and Judaica departments.
Elie Rosenfeld of Teaneck does not expect to win the NJOP competition, but he nonetheless entered his prized piece of Judaica: an original 1934 Maxwell House Haggadah.
This particular haggadah, he readily admits, is not a family heirloom; he bought it on eBay last year.
"I own the ad agency that produces the Haggadah and I collect them," Rosenfeld explained. "I have about a dozen from the ’40s and ’50s, and hundreds from more recent years. We did not have an original till I found this one."
In his entry, Rosenfeld explains how the iconic Passover seder guide came into being.
"In the early part of the ‘0th century, Eastern European Jews mistakenly thought that the coffee bean was in the category of legumes, and therefore refrained for drinking coffee during Passover, when legumes are banned. By the early 1930s, General Foods, with the help of Joseph Jacobs, a Jewish marketing pioneer, began marketing Maxwell House coffee to Jews in New York and knew that coffee beans were in fact a fruit, not a bean [Kraft Foods now owns Maxwell House]. With the kosher certification of Rabbi Hersch Kohn, they began to sell coffee for Passover and to help reinforce their kosher for Passover message, they began to distribute free Passover Haggadahs. Having printed well over 45 million books, it is the most circulated Judaica item in the world."
Rosenfeld said his agency will be printing another million copies just after Chanukah.
Is the new version very different from the original?
"At the end of the story, the Jews go to Boca instead of the Promised Land," he joked. All kidding aside, the book started using a more modern English translation in the mid-1960s and underwent a cosmetic facelift in 1997.
It is likely that this Haggadah will enter the Rosenfeld family collection for future generations.
"We hope to show that Judaism is both age-old and entirely precious and new to each individual," said Buchwald. "The importance of preserving Jewish traditions is illustrated by the great care with which we preserve items of Jewish symbolism like candlesticks, kiddush cups, and mezuzahs that have special meaning to us. In NJOP’s search for priceless Judaica we hope to show that the essential value of these items is as symbols and vehicles through which we live our lives."