A 19th-century synagogue menorah from Prague will be the centerpiece next week at the first-ever Hanukah menorah lighting ceremony to be held in a Muslim embassy.
The Consulate General of Turkey in New York and the Embassy of Turkey in Washington DC are set to host the Hanukah celebration on the evening of the fourth candle, December 21, at “Turkish House” in New York City.
But how did a 19th-century menorah from Prague end up being the star of a Hanukah party hosted by Turkey?
It started with a man named Ron “from Chabad” who is president of the Turkish Jewish Society in New York and New Jersey, and his friend named Thomas Gelb, owner of an extensive Judaica collection, who purchased the menorah decades ago.
“I was invited by my friend Ron to a special Hanukah party being held of all places, and to my amazement, at the Turkish Consulate in New York,” Gelb told JewishPress.com in a series of email interviews this past week.
“The party was all ready to go, but the Turkish Consulate does not own a menorah, and reached out to Ron for help. Ron knows about my extensive Judaica collection and asked me to help him,” Gelb explained.
“This candelabra was rescued along with Sefer Torahs and other pieces from a Czech shul shortly before it was set ablaze and destroyed during Kristallnacht by the Nazi occupiers,” he went on.
Gelb’s specialty, however, is not menorahs; it’s Havdalah spice boxes (“Besamim”). The collector owns several hundred sacred objects from the 17th century up to modern and contemporary pieces, and it was this collection that prompted his friend Ron to ask about a menorah.
The menorah has been kept in a safe deposit box and taken out only for Hanukah, but not light — but for the first time, Gelb said he agreed to light the menorah “at [his] Chabad” on Sunday, the first night of Hanukah. It will then be lit on Wednesday, the fourth night of Hanukah, at the Turkish Consulate.
The menorah is more than two feet tall, made with a silver plate resting on a heavy Rococo base, hand formed with bulb-decorated arms in a typically Eastern European style. The flower-designed candle holders are repousse formed and “amazingly all intact, including the original shamash,” Gelb said.
“I am very glad that this precious artifact was selected and will be lit up and shown at this special event in lieu of a previously suggested menorah from Walmart,” he added. “I am very moved and proud and looking forward to this great event.”