By Tova Teitelbaum
“Why do you have so many candlesticks.” asks my seven year old granddaughter. “Why do you need so many ?”she insists on knowing.
I look around in surprise. I hadn’t realized I had so many.
“Each pair of candlesticks has a story” I answer.
My granddaughter touches a pair on the side board.
“Tell me about these.” “They belonged to my grandmother. Her name was Lea, just like yours, in fact you’re named after her.” I answer.
I pause. I don’t really know how to continue. I had never met my grandmother.
My grandparents had lived in Austria. When the Nazis came to power in 1938 they managed to escape. They arrived in Eretz Yisroel with one small suitcase each. After a few weeks they were able to scrape together enough money to buy a pair of pewter candlesticks which my grandmother used till she passed away ten years later.
“But how come YOU have those candlesticks?” my inquisitive granddaughter wants to know.
“About a month after I married Saba my Aunt Sara visited me. ‘You are my mother’s first grandchild to get married and I want you to have these in her memory’.”
I felt very privileged to receive this gift. There are probably very few people of my generation who can claim to be lighting their grandmother’s candlesticks.
“Tell me about those silver ones.” Lea points to a pair of small candlesticks sitting on a glass shelf.
“They were a prize when I finished school in Australia”
“Did all the girls receive candlesticks? Why did you get them?” she insists on knowing. I’m a bit embarrassed. I don’t want to sound too boastful but she asks again.
“I won them as a prize for being the best pupil in the last year of school.” I answer.
I stop for a moment and remember growing up in Australia. I remember the small community of Holocaust survivors. They had emigrated from Europe in search of a new and safer life. They worked hard and built up a thriving community with synagogues, schools, and even a retirement home. “It was lovely growing up in Australia.” I tell my granddaughter. “We could walk anywhere by ourselves. The streets were safe and everyone was friendly.”
“Here is a candlestick with two arms, who gave you these?”
“Bella gave me those.” I reply
“I know Bella,” Lea says. “She’s your cousin, we often meet her. Why did she give you this present? ”
“Bella is my almost sister. She lived with us in Bratislava before she came to Israel,” I answer.
“Where were her parents, why didn’t she live at home?”
I breath in deeply. How much does one tell a seven year old child? “Her parents had died so she came to live with us.” I answer briefly.
Miraculously Bella had survived Aushwitz but her family had been murdered. Neither of her parents had survived, none of her siblings were alive. My parents took her into our home. She lived with us till she went to Eretz Yisroel two years later.
“Do you light them all?” she asks.
“I started off with these two.” I show Lea another pair of candlesticks. Saba’s parents gave me these when we got married.” Lea does not give up easily, she needs to know everything.
“What about these tall ones?”
“Those belonged to my mother.”
“Do you use all the candlesticks?” but Lea answers herself almost immediately. “No, of course you don’t. The whole family gave you this candelabra for your fiftieth wedding anniversary a few years ago.”
Suddenly Lea squeals in delight.
“Savta. What are those two tiny candle sticks on the top shelf? They are so cute. Do you use them? They’re made for someone just like me. Did you ever light candles on them?”
Yes, I lit candles on them. My mother even made tiny challos for me to put near them. After the war my parents found me with the non Jewish family who had saved me, I had lived with them for over a year, I was totally estranged from all Yidishkeit. If truth be told I didn’t want to go home with those “jidovfka” (Jewish) people. To win my heart back my mother made me a special Shabbos table. Every Friday she baked tiny challos and allowed me to light those two small candle sticks.
“Please Savta, would you give them to me. I would love to have them. I promise to look after them.”
I look at Lea’s shining eyes “I think it would be a great idea for you to have them, but you will have to ask Ima whether she allows you to light them.”
I sighed. Lea’s first, innocent question had brought back many memories. “Lea, my sweet granddaughter, you asked wonderful questions. Perhaps I don’t need all these candlesticks but I love having them around me because they remind me of the important moments of my life.”
Tova Teitelbaum is a child holocaust survivor who grew up in Australia but has been living in Israel for many years. She is the author of a number of articles and short stories on Jewish themes. She is also the author of professional articles in her field of teaching children with dyslexia.