The Museum of

       Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays


Paint What You Remember
Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays in Opatów, Poland
as told by Mayer Kirshenblatt



We used to play with the dreydl on Hanukkah, which celebrates a military victory and a miracle. After Judah Maccabee and his troops defeated the Greek army in Syria, they recaptured Jerusalem and purified the Temple. When they went to rededicate the Temple, they discovered that they only had enough oil for one day. Miraculously, this oil lasted for eight days. We celebrate this holiday, in December, by lighting candles on each of eight nights, eating fried foods, and playing with the dreydl. On each of the dreydl's four sides is the first letter of a word in the Hebrew sentence Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, which means "a great miracle happened there."

My grandfather made the dreydl from the lead seals on parcels delivered to his shop. All year long he would save these seals. they were affixed to the ends of strings tied around parcels so that you would know, by the condition of the seal, if someone had tampered with the parcel. Impressed on the seal was the mark of the company that had shipped the parcel.

By Hanukkah, my grandfather had accumulated quite a few seals. To make the dreydl, he would melt the little lead seals and pour them into a small wooden mold that was about two inches high. The mold was ancient. I have no idea who made it. It must have been passed down. It was intricately carved and formed a dreydl with four wings.

The mold was in two parts, which were tied together with a piece of string. To melt he lead, Grandfather would put the seals into a little cast-iron crucible, which he headed on a small Primus machine. Lead has a very low melting point. He would then pour it into a little hole at the top of the mold. Over the years, the dreydlekh would get broken or lost, so Grandfather made us new dreydlekh every year. That's how we got our dreydlekh. I would give anything today to have that little mold. He used it year after year.

I painted Hanukkah at home with my father, mother, and brothers. We lit the candles and sang Maor tsur (Rock of Ages.) I added a few notes to indicate that we were singing. It was a special day for us because we were let out of school early. Father gave me Hanukkah gelt, a few pennies for a present, in honor of the holiday. Mother cooked latkes, potato pancakes, which are very delicious. She grated raw potatoes, added eggs and flour, and fried the pancakes in shmalts, rendered goose fat. There was oil--it was expressed from sunflower seeds and rapeseed--and, though I don't remember Mother cooking with it, she must have used it for deep frying and to make delicacies that were neither meat nor dairy. We ate the latkes with a little sugar.



Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
January 1993
Acrylic on canvas
24 x 36 in.
Collection of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett
and Max Gimblett, New York.
Photographed by Tom Warren,
with the assistance of Anthony Fodero.

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