Menorah of Courage
This post originally ran on May 4, 2005.
There is a famous photograph of a Hanukkah menorah in a window opposite the town hall of Kiel in Germany. The year is 1933, and the building that the menorah faces is decorated with a Nazi flag. The photograph always makes me think of David and Goliath, except that here, David did not dispatch the enemy with one blow. Instead, it was Goliath who attacked—with unparalleled cruelty and viciousness—and David who survived, after bleeding almost to death.
I saw the photograph for the first time in A Different Light, a book about Hanukkah. Soon after I got it, I read it from beginning to end and discovered the photograph, which made a strong impression on me.
Several months after I received the book, I spent Shabbat with friends of mine in a town near Jerusalem. At lunch, a woman at the table asked: “Has anyone ever seen the menorah at the home of the M. family? It appears in a famous photograph”—and she proceeded to describe the very same picture I had seen in the book. I couldn’t believe my ears. The M. family lived on the same street where I was staying, only a few houses away from my friends’ home.
After Shabbat I went to the M. family’s home and asked to see the menorah. The family graciously allowed me to look at it, touch it and hold it, and they told me its story.
The menorah had belonged to the town rabbi, a direct ancestor of the M. family. At approximately the time the photograph was taken, the rabbi denounced the Nazis from his pulpit. Understanding the danger he was in, his congregants begged him to get out of Germany, and although he resisted at first, in the end they persuaded him. He immigrated to pre-state Palestine together with his family, who brought the menorah with them.
When I got home later that night, I e-mailed the author of the book. “You’ll never believe what I just saw and held,” I wrote. The author put me in touch with an archivist at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, and in turn I put her in touch with the M. family. The story of the menorah and the rabbi who defied the Nazis from his windowsill and from his pulpit is now properly archived in the museum.
Recently the M. family was blessed with a grandchild. As he grows up, he will learn the story of his courageous ancestor and the menorah he brought from darkness to light.