Littel Mangurten did not take much with her when she fled Poland on a cold winter night in 1939. But one of the few items she packed in her small bag for the ocean voyage to Panama was a silver kiddush cup set.
Her granddaughter, Leah Damski of Clifton, inherited the set and wrote an essay about it for the National Jewish Outreach Program’s Judaica Across America contest. Her entry was chosen as one of 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.
Mangurten’s tiny silver cups remained wrapped and stored away as the family assimilated into American life. "Though one of many granddaughters, as a young adult I was the only one to return to my Jewish roots," wrote Damski.
This Shabbat lamp was originally filled with oil.
She met her future husband, Seth, when both were becoming observant while studying in Jerusalem. They were married in 1999, and Damski’s mother brought the set to Israel for the newlyweds to use.
"I longed to once again breathe life into the special cups," wrote Damski, a member of B’nai Torah in Clifton. "I was determined to use the set on my own Shabbos table every week. Using an object for a mitzvah which was given by a person who has passed away is a big merit. It is said this elevates their soul in heaven."
Living in Clifton since ‘005, the Damskis and their two young children often have Sabbath guests and love to share the story of the kiddush cups. She looks forward to passing them down to the next generation.
"I want my children to feel the connection to the grandmother who escaped Jewish oppression and came to this country to give her family a better life," said Damski.
B.J. Yudelson of Rochester, N.Y., was named a finalist for her essay about her grandfather’s Sabbath lamp. Her son, Larry Yudelson of Teaneck, remembers "Granny’s lamp" in its special spot in the family’s homes in Cleveland and Rochester. But when his mother received it from her aunt, about 40 years ago, the family was living in Milwaukee and Larry Yudelson was just an infant.
Oddly enough, when B.J. Yudelson set eyes on it she realized that it was almost identical to one she and her husband had admired in the Milwaukee Public Museum. And when her mother saw it, she recognized it from her own childhood. She recalled that before dinner on Fridays, her father would saunter over and click on the light. It had not been used in the intervening generation.
The lamp had been designed to be fueled with oil. "Its tapered, fluted vessel held enough oil to light a room far into the night," she wrote. "Originally the oil had flowed into arms that radiated horizontally to form an eight-pointed star. Hooked to the center point was a drip catcher. By the time I received it, a thick electrical cord almost obscured the square-link chain on which it hung, and round light bulbs had replaced the wicks."
Before entering the NJOP contest, she tried to get more information about the lamp from the museum. "All they know is that they have some in storage dated ’19th century,’" said Yudelson in a phone interview. "I know that my mother’s family came here from Bavaria in the 1860s and they must have brought it with them. Beyond that, it’s a mystery."
Her grandfather, whom she knew only as a photograph on her grandmother’s dresser, apparently electrified the lamp in the early 1900s.
Once in their possession, the family heirloom became important to the Yudelson family’s growing Sabbath observance. As their son and daughter grew tall enough to reach the switch, turning it on before Shabbat became his or her special job.
Today, Yudelson clicks it on each week before lighting her (wax) candles beneath it. "Past merges with present as I circle the flames with my hands to draw their light and serenity into my soul," she wrote. "I say the blessing, then pray silently for the people I love."
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