Scholar in Residence at HBI coming up

By Ruth Ellen Gruber


I have been named scholar in residence at the Hadassah Brandeis Institute to continue work on this project — plans are to be at HBI, at Brandeis University near Boston, from about Jan. 10 until the end of February.

During my fellowship, one of my goals is to upgrade and redesign this web site — though I haven’t figured out yet just how….I want to showcase photographs but also write more in depth about the stones, their imagery and also about the questions of tradition and the transmission of tradition that is inherent in my study.

New book on Jewish sites in northern Moldavia

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The Swiss diplomat Simon Geissbuehler, who has just completed a posting in Bucharest (and moved on to a new one in Warsaw), has published another book on Jewish traces in Eastern Europe. This one is called “Like Shells on a Shore: Synagogues and Jewish Cemeteries of Northern Moldavia” — it is a slim monograph, essentially a travelogue that  documents journeys that Simon took through neighboring parts of today’s northern Romania, Ukraine and Moldova, mostly in an area demarcated by the Siret and Dniester rivers. An abbreviated account can be viewed online HERE.

Simon documents the Jewish sites her finds in the region, mainly synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, but he also gives thoughtful views on the nature of heritage, Jewish heritage and memory in these places — memory that is fast receding if not already extinguished. He reluctantly concludes that there is little will or desire there to remember the destroyed Jewish world preserve its physical relics.

The most striking places that Simon documents in his book are the huge abandoned Jewish cemetery outside the remote village of Vadul Raskov, Moldova on the bank of the Dniester — also documented in words and images in the Moldova Impressions blog

Orphaned Shabbos Candlesticks United in Menorah

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Earlier today, I posted a link to an article on Hanukkah menorahs by Alana Newhouse. One of her favorites is called “Candlesticks United,” by  Reddish, a partnership of the Israeli designers Naama Steinbock and Idan Friedman… it is a Hanukkah menorah made from orphaned Shabbos candlesticks that the designers found in flea markets, vintage stores and other places — the piece also comes in a seven-branch “non-Hanukkah” menorah version, a picture of which is below.

It is a very striking piece. States Reddish: “These rescued candlesticks, which once played an important part in different family ceremonies, are now reused and united to form a candelabrum. The different parts of the Menorah are now sharing their life stories.”

Comments Alana Newhouse, about the Hanukkah version:

it enables the Jewish past not simply to speak to the Jewish present, but to create it. It’s almost inspired enough to make us forget something perhaps more perplexing, more painfully out of reach, even than God: our own human history, and the fact of what our ancestors chose to, or were made to, leave behind.

Hanukkah Menorahs — a different kind of candlestick


Makeshift Hanukkah menorah on the bar of the Siraly cafe in Budapest, Hanukkah 2009. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

In Tablet Magazine, editor Alana Newhouse recently wrote about the variety of Hanukkah menorahs, the eight-branched (or nine, if you count the Shammas) candelabras lit for the Hanukkah holiday — one candle a night, with increasing candles until on the last night all eight are lit.

Throughout the vagaries of my connection to religion, I’ve never once had doubts about my connection to its material culture—the challah knives, washing cups, mezuzahs, etc., of Jewish life. Of this stuff, and it is stuff, none has been more alluring for me than our various candle holders. That these pieces occupy the particularly female realm of our religious universe is relevant, but that the point of these accoutrements is to hold fire is even more so. The Hebrew word shamayim—the heavens —is comprised of two words: aish, or fire, and mayim, which means water. As rabbi Shlomo Riskin, among others, has noted: “[While] fire has the ability to bring warmth, it can also devour and destroy. … [C]loud and fire—the lack of clarity expressed by a cloud and the inability to gaze directly into a flame—likewise express one of the deepest truths of the Jewish message: religion is not so much paradise as it is paradox. God demands fealty even in the face of agonizing questions and disturbing uncertainty.”

Sabbath candles certainly fit the bill, as they demand our weekly attention to the challenge of this uncertainty. But what of the chanukiah, the nine-armed fire-holder that represents, in addition to Judaism’s essential paradox, the assertion of a miracle—an alleged interruption into our earthly landscape by the Divine? And here we are, back at the original problem: God.

When I was a kid, the Hanukkia was the only “menorah” I knew — I didn’t realize that there was another, seven-branched menorah which was the more general Jewish (and Israeli) symbol.

Some of the candlesticks depicted on Jewish women’s tombstone resemble these candelabras, but actually represent the Sabbath (and holiday) lights.