By Amy Sorter
Special to the TJP
This year, Hanukkah begins the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 12. Though the Festival of Lights is still a couple of weeks away, you might already be dusting off your hanukkiah, taking out the latke and sufganiot recipes, and searching high and low for those missing dreidels that are firmly entrenched in the darkest depths, under your sofa.
And, if you have a meaningful or unique hanukkiah you won’t be using this year, you might consider donating it to the Dallas Jewish Historical Society’s menorah exhibit, Let There Be Light.
“We have a few already in our collection,” said Debra Polsky, the DJHS executive director. The late Ann Sikora, one of the leaders of the Dallas Jewish community, designed one such menorah. That hanukkiah is in the shape of a mariachi band. Others have been donated, over the years, to the organization. “Now we’re reaching out to ask people to loan us their menorahs for the upcoming show,” Polsky said.
Presenting Jewish symbols with community donations isn’t new for the DJHS. A year ago, the organization borrowed dreidels from the community, and put together an exhibit.
“People really loved it,” Polsky said. “When it comes to ritual objects, people looking at it will say ‘I have one like that’ or ‘My mother had one like that’ or even ‘I’ve never seen one like that.’ ”
The favorable reaction to the dreidel exhibit was one reason why Polsky pushed forward on a menorah show. Another reason was because of the menorah itself. While the dreidel is meant for fun and games, lighting the hanukkiah fulfills a mitzvah.
“Whenever you display an article that fulfills a mitzvah, such as a mezuzah or menorah, you are supposed to make the mitzvah as beautiful as possible, hiddur mitzvah,” Polsky said. “That’s why Torah covers are so beautiful. And that’s why you see beautiful menorahs and mezuzahs.”
Designs for hanukkiot can range from the traditional brass or silver nine-branch types that continue to be popular, to those that are reflective of the art, design and fashion of their times. “One of the menorahs we have, and that we’re using, is made from different types of women’s shoes,” Polsky pointed out.
As such, Polsky said the exhibit will accept both traditional and unusual hanukkiot, but there is a caveat to this. For one thing, as the display will begin before Hanukkah and run through the holiday, don’t expect to use that menorah in your home. And second, the object needs to have some kind of personal or other history. Polsky said she has about three windows to fill, and she wants to fill those windows with meaningful objects.
“We want menorahs that people have bought, or have, either because it meant something to them, or it tickled their fancy,” she said. “We’re looking for anything that reflects the person who is loaning the piece to us, or that reflects the times during which it was made.”
Depending on the success of this year’s menorah exhibit, Polsky indicated she might look into mounting other displays in the future, one with Seder plates, for example. But, for the time being, the DJHS would like to share your menorah with others. If you’re unable to do that, the DJHS invites you to visit the display. And, when you do so, Polsky hopes it provides an understanding of how ritual objects reflect the Jewish community of its time, whether the hanukkiah is a more traditional one from 1920s Europe, or an emoji version that comes complete with LED lights.
“These objects reflect who we are, and what we think is beautiful,” Polsky added. “Though our idea of beauty changes throughout the ages, the idea of beautifying a mitzvah remains with us.”
For more information on the exhibit, and where to donate, contact Debra Polsky at 214-239-7120, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.