Hanukkah Symbol

December 12, 2009 by  

Hanukkah Symbol:Dori and Steve Whiteside didn’t set out to collect menorahs. It just kind of happened.
“Steve had a couple when we got married and then, over the years, we just got more interested,” says Dori.
Today, the couple has upwards of 60 — new and old, all with wonderful stories.
While the family menorah is an important part of the celebration of Hanukkah in most Jewish homes, to many others, like the Whitesides, it is so much more. The menorah is an expression of self, of taste, of history, and maybe even of impulse, says Steve. It is impossible to own only one.

Over the years, the two have accumulated menorahs from family, from friends and from their many travels around the world.

Both are self-professed passionate collectors of menorahs, candelabra that are symbols of rejoicing and gratitude to God.

In two beautiful cabinets in the living room of their Richmond home, their collection sits proudly on glass shelves.

As the couple chats about their collected works, Steve gingerly starts to take them out.

There’s one that’s more than 80 years old, made of heavy cast iron and given to Steve by his grandmother.

Another, totally opposite in character, is a busy scene of New York City. It holds much historical symbolism for the two, since it was purchased after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s made of clay and hand-painted, and portrays the Twin Towers, the Broadway harbour with a boat sailing by and the Statue of Liberty.

As they pull out one after another — some passed down three generations — it’s plain to see that these are cherished family heirlooms. One of Dori’s sentimental favourites would have to be the intricately beaded one her best friend, Cindy Cohen, created for her.

“Cindy spent hundreds of hours placing each tiny bead on the menorah; and not only that, but she personalized it, as well.”

There is the Masonic logo, a nod to Steve’s affiliation with the Masons; a whimsical turtle that speaks to Dori’s mother’s collection of turtles; and a Hamsa, an ancient amulet that is a symbol of good luck and prosperity in Middle Eastern culture.

“There’s even a bone for our dog Bandit,” she says. “These tiny beads are pearls. You can’t get much more personal than that.”

The Whitesides’ menorahs are mostly synagogues-gift shop finds from around the world, but every once a while they’ve found one in the most peculiar of places.

Dori points to a contemporary, eclectic green glass one purchased at Winners for $20.

With an eye for “uniquely-different menorahs,” the couple has spent more than two decades accumulating their collection.

Dori was thrilled when she was in a shop in Miami and stumbled upon a menorah portraying seven clowns, each holding various musical instruments.

“Steve is a . . . Shriner clown, so I surprised him with it, as a gift one year at Hanukkah,” says Dori.

No sooner does she place the clown menorah back in its rightful place, when Steve carefully brings out the “piece de resistance”: a hand-painted, one-of-a-kind scroll menorah illustrating the Western Wall–or Wailing Wall–in Israel.

“It’s stunning, isn’t it,” she says, with a whisper.

The menorah is one of the oldest and most revered symbols of the Jewish faith. Its candles are lit starting at the beginning of the eight-day Hanukkah holiday, which this year begins tonight and commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 BC.

The Hanukkah menorah, says Rabbi Joseph Saltoun of the Beth Tikvah Congregation and Centre in Richmond, symbolizes the miracle after the temple was destroyed and the oil that should have lasted for one day lasted for eight.

“Normally, a can of oil lasted one day and this is what we celebrate,” says Saltoun.

“So, the eight-branched candelabrum, or Hannukkaia, represents each of those eight days, with the shama, or the starter, in the centre, used to light all the others.”

Many contemporary designers have created menorahs in various styles and from assorted materials such as wood, metals, glass and more.

Modern menorahs are often very colourful.

Steve points to one in particular that is at once whimsical and bursting with colour.

“I just returned from Israel, and I just had to buy this one by a local artist called Tzuki . . . his menorahs are in shops everywhere and they are truly pieces of art,” he says.

Made of galvanized metal, the handcrafted menorah depicts and celebrates joy and family unity.

The whole family seems to be coming together to nurture the roots of the tree that symbolize home and hearth, says Dori, adding it’s one of her favourites.

The couple says each piece carries a unique story.

“I didn’t realize, or I have forgotten, just how much meaning is behind each and every one of them,” Steve adds.

Twenty to 30 years ago, menorahs were typically small, made of metal, and dressed with a Star of David.

“They were plain Jane, not too exciting, not like the ones you can purchase today . . . some are true pieces of art.”

Having said that, he retracts his words as he picks up one given to him by his grandmother– a hand-carved one shaped like a violin and made of 24-carat gold and silver. These menorahs don’t just sit artfully displayed in china cabinets.

“We host a yearly menorah party and invite Jews and non-Jews to celebrate with us,” says Steve. “We serve latkes, homemade apple sauce, fruit and jelly-filled doughnuts. Later, we say a prayer and then everybody lights a menorah.

“We turn down all the lights and it’s quite a beautiful sight to see all the menorahs lit in the darkened room.”

Although their daughters — Chelsea, 16, and Alana, 14 — aren’t collectors, they do enjoy the menorah rituals.

“They love sharing Hanukkah with their friends,” Dori adds.

“I see their excitement when we light them . . . I still remember, as a child, being in awe as my brother and I lit the menorah.”

Steve agrees and adds: “Since I was a child, the lighting of the menorah has been an important part of that special evening . . . it always brings the family together in love.”

When asked if Gentile possession of a menorah is frowned upon, Steve is quick to say no.

“Absolutely not,” he says emphatically. “I can’t think of any reason why anyone can’t enjoy them . . . there are no rules in our faith to that effect. Although it’s our tradition, it’s one we share happily.”

It’s easy to see how this special collection brings them many happy moments as the couple relives memories each time they carefully pick up one of their treasured menorahs. Some people pass down their antiques from generation to generation; in the Whiteside family, it’s menorahs — those wonderful symbols of triumph and joy.

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