The Museum at Eldridge Street is proud to present highlights from the remarkable Aharon Ben Zalman Collection of menorahs. This expansive collection features menorahs from around the globe and over five centuries of Hanukkah celebrations.
Though Jewish communities in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas all celebrate the holiday, the style of lamps they use reflect unique cultures and traditions. Each menorah’s design tells a story about its origin and those who used it. This exhibition celebrates Jewish tradition and the Hanukkah holiday, but it illuminates much more about cultural history, the evolution of customs, and Judaic heritage.
The entire exhibition is displayed in the Museum’s magnificent historic sanctuary. Menorahs from 17th-century Italy and 19th-century North Africa will be displayed alongside those from Colonial America and modern-day Israel, India, Brazil, Poland, the Netherlands, and more.
The exhibition includes menorahs in brass, ceramic, wood, silver, and more; some vibrant painted, others modestly minimal, and others rendered in elaborate and intricate metalwork. The lamps in this collection have survived forced migrations, pogroms, the Holocaust, the rebirth of Israel and more.
Hanukkah itself commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The story says that the Temple’s lights miraculously burned for eight days, even though there was only enough sacred oil for one. Since medieval times, Jews around the world have lit Hanukkah menorahs to commemorate that miracle.
As this exhibition shows, menorahs can vary greatly in their design but all retain a few key elements. They hold nine candles – one each for the eight nights of the holiday – and a shamash or “servant light” that is used to ignite the others. In this way, the menorah becomes a powerful symbol of Jewish communities across the globe – there are stylistic and cultural differences, but they are united in their embrace of symbolic and meaningful ritual.
Presented with Beit Hatfutsot of America and American Friends of Beit Hatfutsot.