Designing a Uniquely Personal and Genealogically-Oriented Litvak Menorah
Recently I added a New York City Menorah to my personal collection of Chanukiyot. You, too, may be familiar with this contemporary modern ceramic menorah of the Manhattan Skyline http://www.anymenorah.com/photos/NYCSL.jpg which displays a unique blend of instantly identifiable Gotham landmarks upon it such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the United Nations, the Chrysler Building, a Broadway marquee, a New York City taxicab, a bridge with a tower, and the Twin Towers, A"L.
As I stared across my dining room table on the first night of Chanukah towards the table by the front window where the candles in this distinctly New York City Menorah were burning so brightly, I began ruminating about what might be placed on a Chanukiya to transform it into a uniquely genealogically oriented Litvak Menorah…
I began my creative candelabra design quest by trying to identify distinct genealogical landmarks which were either or both Jewish and indigenous to Lithuania. Naturally, some of the first places to spring to mind were also some of the very archives and repositories I am most apt to contact vis a vis family history research. Thus, as I began to seriously envision my Litvak Chanukiya, at the head of my list were replicas of YIVO and LVIA (Lietuvos Valstybes Istorijos Archyvas or the Lithuanian State Historical Archives), both connected with Vilnius aka Vilna Ir va’Aim b’Yisroel, as well as Kauno Apygardos Archyvas, the State Historical Archives in Kaunas.
Next, naturally, in addition to the major cities of Vilnius and Kaunas, I very much wanted to include allusions to my many ancestral shtetls in Lithuania, starting with Zagare, Siauliai, Klykoliai, and Popilani where my Surinamers and Zurinamers were known to reside, and continuing with Zeimelis and Kriukai where my mother-in-law’s Lepars used to lived, and Birzai where her Bochurs once dwelled, and possibly including the elusive places where my husband’s Kaplans may have lived of either Keidaniai or Kvedarna and where his Klompuses may well have lived, in Vieksniai or Sveksna. (Of course I could always opt to write what was on his grandfather’s naturalization which was Chevedan and Ibeksni.) But even so, just how should I go about incorporating these shtetls into the overall design of this menorah-to-be? Should I simply have a few directional signs along a winding path to point the way to these localities, or should I perhaps instead include a detailed map of Lithuania with the names of these shtetlach that were personally important to me inscribed in Hebrew? Or, alternatively, maybe I might even include miniature versions of some of the historic vital records in my collection, such as the 1885 marriage of my husband’s second great-grandparents, Sheina Reich Berman and Bendet Lepar, in Zeimelis.
Moreover, since some of my Surinamers and Bochurs wandered further afield into what was once Courlandskaya Gubernia and is now Latvia, in my mind’s eye I also considered adding in road signs or railroad signs pointing onward towards Liepaja, Riga, Mitau, Bauske, and Skaistkalne, but I am still undecided whether or not I absolutely want to do so. And I also have to decide whether or not I want to include an allusion to the birthplace of my fifth great uncle Gerrit Jacobs, the elusive, mysterious Bismosnejar whose exact location in 17th century Lithuania has still not been unearthed – though possibly a highway sign labeled Bismosnejar with great big questions marks surrounding it might be the answer.
Perhaps one could even design a unique, all-inclusive Menorah featuring familiar Jewish landmarks from the many different towns and villages that make up LitvakLand from Akmene and Aleksandrovo to Lida and Lygumai and Zasliai and Zeimys -- maybe even a sui generis Synagogue Menorah featuring distinctive synagogues from all over Lithuania. The possibilities, once one’s imagination gets started, are indeed endless.
What would you most like to see on a Menorah if you were envisioning your own unique genealogically oriented Chanukiya??? If you start designing it now, you might just have it ready to use for next Chanukah…