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On Monday 2 December at 11 a.m., a rare Hanukkah menorah will be handed over to Steven Kashkett, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Prague. During this year's Hanukkah celebrations – the Jewish Festival of Lights – this unique lamp will be on display at the White House, the official residence of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. On the last day of Hanukkah – which this year falls on Thursday, 5 December – all of the candles on the lamp will be lit at a special reception hosted by the President and First Lady in the presence of many guests.

For this special occasion, the Jewish Museum in Prague has selected a menorah from the Moravian town of Hrušov whose story – along with the fate of the people who donated the lamp – reflects the turbulent history of the Jewish community of Bohemia and Moravia in the first half of the twentieth century. After more than 70 years, the lights lit on this menorah express faith in the victory of good over evil, freedom over tyranny and knowledge over ignorance.

The loan of this menorah was initiated by J.E. Norman Eisen, the United States Ambassador to the Czech Republic. On the basis of an earlier request made by the First Lady Michelle Obama during a tour of the Jewish Museum, a menorah from the Moravian town of Prostějov was sent to the White House in 2009.

Story of the Hanukkah menorah from Hrušov

In view of its size, this Hanukkah menorah was originally intended for use during the lighting ritual both in the home, synagogue and prayer house. It has curved branches and a shape that is based on that of the original menorah in the Temple of Jerusalem, which was destroyed by the Roman army during its seize of Jerusalem in 70 CE. This is one of two basic shapes for Hanukkah menorahs. It imitates the details of the menorah as shown on the Arch of Titus, including the two-level octagonal pedestal with the embossed fields on the sides. This type was made in the Central European region from the latter half of the 19th century and, in view of the large amount of preserved pieces, was evidently very popular. This item differs from most other menorahs in that it is larger.

The menorah is made of solid cast brass and, as was usual for this material, lacks any kind of maker's mark. As a result, it is possible to give only an approximate date and provenance. The original owners and place of use, however, are mentioned in the Hebrew dedicatory inscription, which is engraved on the base:

“This was donated by Abraham Isaac and his wife Hayyah Ettinger here in Hrušov in the year 682 according to the minor era (1922).”

It is no longer possible to ascertain whether this Hanukkah menorah had previously been the property of the donor's family or whether it had been purchased specially for this occasion. Hrušov, originally a separate township at the northern edge of Ostrava, is now part of the city. New synagogues and prayer houses were built in Ostrava and its surroundings as a result of the increase in the size of the Jewish community in Ostrava. This is also the case with Hrušov where the local Jewish prayer association purchased a house in 1914 and built a small prayer hall there – this is where the Hanukkah menorah was used from 1922 onwards. The prayer hall was burnt down by the Nazis on the night of 11 June 1939, and the rest of the building was demolished during the following winter.

On 23 November, after the annexation of the Czechoslovak border area (the Sudetenland), the donor's family were expelled from Ostrava and sent to Poland. Abraham Isaac (Adolf) Ettinger (born 1891) was murdered by the Nazis in an unknown place in 1943, as was his wife Hayyah (Hermína) and their children Else, Edith and Alfred.

Like most of the ceremonial objects sent to Prague from the Jewish communities and associations of the Czech lands that were abolished immediately after Nazi Germany occupied Bohemia and Moravia on March 15, 1939, this Hanukkah menorah was saved, too, by being included in the Jewish Museum’s collection.

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