By Ruth Ellen Gruber
Some time ago, I wrote a post including my aunt Pearl Gruber Kaplan’s recollections of her mother, my grandmother, Rebecca (Rosenberg Gruber) Rifkin, lighting the candlesticks on Friday night.
Here is a recent picture of Aunt Pearl, with a still life she painted of the Shabbos candles, and the candlesticks themselves. Photo was taken by her son, Robert (Tex) Kaplan.
In an article “Hand Signs of the Jews” on the Chabad web site, I found this explanation of using the hands in blessing the Candles — as so vividly portrayed on women’s tombstones.
Blessings over Shabbat Candles
When Shabbat candles are lit, a ritual involving hands takes place. Usually this is done by the woman lighting the candles, though if there is no woman in the house, a man is obligated to do it. The candles are lit, and with both hands she waves the light towards her three times. The symbolism is to draw the spirit of the holiness of the Shabbat towards her. She closes her eyes, covers them with her hands, and recites the blessing. It is this sight of physical movement, bathed in the soft glow of the candles, and the faint murmur of her prayers that has been etched into the memories of so many generations of Jews.
It is often the physical aspect of a ritual that not only adds to but impresses on us the importance of the ritual, so that we remember it long after the ritual is over. That is what Jewish hand signs are all about.
Pearl Gruber Kaplan is my father’s older sister, the oldest of the seven children of my grandparents, Frank and Rebecca Rosenberg Gruber. Now more than 90, Aunt Pearl lives in Santa Barbara, California. I asked her for her recollections of candle-lighting, when she was growing up in Akron, Ohio.
Yes, my mother lit the candles, closed her eyes and said the blessing; then we all sat down to the traditional (and always the same) Friday night dinner of roast chicken. I don’t know whether she continued the ceremony after my father’s death. But I have the candlesticks; and I’ve painted a still-life of the lit candles.
My parents emigrated from Eastern Europe and brought their religious observances, with them. Success,for a man, was measured by his profession and /or income; for a Jewish girl, it was marriage and her role as Queen of the Kitchen. She was the guardian of the various rites and rules of the Orthodox faith, which she observed seriously and zealously. The mother of a friend had four daughters, three of whom (including my friend) were successes, i.e. married. The ‘failure’ was the unmarried administrator of a large hospital in another city. That was then, but the cultural mindset remained pretty much the same until the Conservative and Reformed congregations loosened things up a bit. And of course Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, et. al.
I have asked her to send a photo of the candlesticks in questions — and of the still life she painted of the burning lights.