A Hanukkah lamp that was recently given to the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam may have one of the most compelling provenances of any Jewish ritual object.
The lamp was created by a Christian (Dutch Reformed) silversmith, Harmanus Nieuwenhuys, for the Dutch Jewish community in 1751 — when Jews were still barred from guilds. (Harmanus’ son Hendrik also created ritual objects for Jewish patrons.)
By all accounts, it appears to have gotten a good deal of use, and a condition report from the museum identifies the object as “good (dent in back).” In 1907 Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) of the Kingdom of the Netherlands bought the lamp at auction and gave it as an Easter gift to her mother, Queen Emma (1858-1934).
Staff at the Jewish Historical Museum may have learned of the lamp’s existence following its inclusion in 1965 in the book “History of Dutch Silver,” according to Irene Faber, the head of collections at the museum. The lamp was given on short-term loan to the museum at some point in the 1980s, she adds. “We do not know what the occasion was, probably an exhibition on ceremonial objects or about history of the Jews in Holland.”
And now, the lamp, which this reporter recently viewed in a museum back room, has found its way to the Jewish community again through Christian hands.
There’s no way of getting around the violence in the noteworthy, but often neglected, Hanukkah-related story of Judith and Holofernes. Judith’s heroic action, the political assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes, is one of the reasons, some say, why one Jewish legal code states that women shouldn’t work while the Hanukkah candles are burning.
Here’s the short version of the story. Apparently unaware of Jael’s successful strategy — detailed in Judges 4 — of lulling Sisera to sleep with a jug of milk and then pounding a tent peg through his temple, Holofernes invites Judith (Yehudit in Hebrew) into his tent one night while he is in one of his drunken stupors. That mistake costs him his head, which Judith brings back to the Jewish camp.
Although Holofernes gets decapitated in every telling of the story — whose canonical status is questionable in the Hebrew scriptures — artistic representations of the political assassination prior to the 17th century were relatively tame.
It seems like so long ago that The Maccabeats warmed the hearts of millions and inspired thousands to take pop songs and make Hanukkah themed YouTube videos. Those friendly Yeshiva boys have split, seemingly, into StandFour and the intriguingly named The Maccabeats. While the schadenfreudistic side of me would love to see live footage of the split, the bubbe side of me can’t help but note that they are all growing up so nicely!
StandFour (they know what they stand for!) have a highly produced parody medley of pop songs with a nice reference to the silliness of it all — “random jewish references in a Hanukkah song.” But this time around all seems a little serious and samey — even to the white frames floating around the video. It feels a little like this singing might be a career now and maybe it’s time to find a nice wife and settle down. Noey, bubbele, why not spill jam from the doughnut again, that was so funny!
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you combined Hanukkah with an electroclash dance party? The Brooklyn art collective CHERYL have, and this year, they’re holding their own version of the festival of lights complete with fake blood, glitter, and, of course, jelly doughnuts. Their part-disco part-performance art project, “CHERYL does CHANUKAH,” will be held at The Jewish Museum tonight, bringing footloose costumed mayhem to New York’s Upper East Side.
At first glance, CHERYL seems like an odd match for a solemn Museum Mile institution. The four member group, comprised of Nick Schiairizzi, Stina Puotinen, Destiny Pierce, and Sarah Van Buren, is best known for their Lady Gaga-level costumes and antic, raging bacchanals, usually held in galleries and warehouses tucked deep in the wilds of North Brooklyn. Their appearance at The Jewish Museum is part of an ongoing series of after hours events called The Wind-Up, aimed at bringing the museum’s collection to a wider, more diverse audience.
“We thought it would be a great way to put a Jewish spin on what CHERYL does already,” explained The Jewish Museum’s Director of Education Nelly Benedek. “They’re fun, they’re unpredictable, and they bring in a younger crowd to the museum.”
Maurice Sendak is best known as a writer and illustrator of children’s books, most famously, “Where the Wild Things Are,” and more recently, “Bumble-Ardy,” published this year. Sendak, who was born to Polish Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn and lost much of his family in the Holocaust, also illustrated Isaac Bashevis Singer’s children’s story “Zlateh the Goat,” which received the Newbery Award, and “In Grandpa’s House,” written by his father, Philip Sendak. Needless to say, his Jewish roots run deep.
Now, Sendak has giving those feelings a different kind of expression by curating The Jewish Museum’s annual exhibit of Hanukkah Lamps, or Hanukkiot, selected from the museum’s extensive collection. Many of Sendak’s choices originate in Eastern Europe and recall the family that he lost there during the Holocaust. “I stayed away from everything elaborate. I kept looking for very plain, square ones, very severe looking,” he said. “Their very simplicity reminded me of the Holocaust. And I thought it was inappropriate for me to be thinking of elaboration.” The exhibit, on view until January 29, also includes original drawings from Sendak’s collaboration with Singer and with his father.
View a slideshow of Hanukkah lamps selected by Maurice Sendak:
Mel Gibson just can’t seem to stop himself from taking on two things: ancient epics and Jews.
In a bit of a shocker, Deadline.com reports that the actor and filmmaker is teaming up with screenwriter Joe Eszterhas to make a movie about Judah Maccabee for Warner Bros. Yes, that Judah Maccabee — the Hasmonean military leader who fought the tyranny and religious oppression of the Asyrian-Greeks against the Jews in Judea in the 2nd century B.C.E.
Forward readers will recall the filmmaker’s alcohol-fuelled diatribe against Jews in 2006. But “having put some painful personal issues behind him, Gibson is determined to get back to making movies. He has long wanted to make this film about heroic Jews, and it was discussed even when he was under fire after his drunken anti-Semitic rant during a 2006 Malibu arrest,” Deadline.com explained.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
In this season of good will and holiday cheer, Howard Jacobson, the Booker Prize-winning author of “The Finkler Question” and a guest last term of George Washington’s English Department, has made mincemeat of Hanukkah. Taking to The New York Times to make his case, he suggests that this Jewish holiday has outlived its usefulness — if, in fact, it had any in the first place.
Hanukkah, argues the British novelist in a cascading procession of paragraphs, simply fails to engage the contemporary imagination. Nothing about it — the food, the ritual, the music — can hold a candle to Christmas. “The cruel truth is that Hanukkah is a seasonal festival of light in search of a pretext,” he writes, sidestepping history in favor of sociology. The best Jacobson can say of the holiday is that its name is “lovely.” Really now.
Casting has begun for an Israeli version of Sex and the City.
At ZEEK, Louis Greenspan re-discovers Jewish philosopher Salomon Maimon.
The New York Times discovers KlezKamp.
Ingrid Pitt, a British horror movie star and Holocaust survivor, has died.
While Hanukkah preparations and aftermath can overshadow every other human activity in December, ‘tis also the season for classical concerts, especially although by no means exclusively, in the New York area. These can include much Yiddishkayt, despite the seeming omnipresence of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Mahler-lovers will not want to miss the much-loved British conductor Sir Colin Davis leading the New York Philharmonic in performances on December 2, 4, and 7 of Mahler’s orchestral songs, “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (The Youth’s Magic Horn). Although born in 1927, Sir Colin still conducts with a balletic grace which vivifies everything he interprets.