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OBJECT OF THE MONTH – December 2009

Master CS (Cyrillus Schillberger ?): Hanukkah Lamp, Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1873

This silver bench Gothic Revival Hanukkah menorah (Heb. hanukkiah) was presumably donated to a congregation in the Moravian town of Prostìjov [Ger. Prossnitz] by the children of Gabriel and Pearl Spitzer. It is a rare piece of craftsmanship from the Viennese silversmith Cyril Schillberger and a superb example of the Gothic Revival style (embellished with ogee arch, pinnacles, and traceries), which was far less common in Central European Jewish ceremonial art of the 19th century than other revival styles, such as Neo-Baroque.
On the menorah’s back plate is a medallion garlanded with two olive branches held on each side by a heraldic lion (a widespread symbol in Judaism for the tribe of Judah). The medallion is topped by the crown of the Torah (Heb. keter Torah, symbolizing majesty and sovereignty) and bears the Hebrew dedicatory inscription:
menorat ha-kadosh[ah] ha-zot / nedavnu / l’zkhut nishamat avinu ha-tzaddik / mh"r [morenu ha-rav]/ gabriel brp"t [ben rabbi PT] spitzer / z"l [zikherono li-vrakhah] / ve-imanu ha-tzenu’ah m" [marat] perl n"a [nishmetah eden] / shenat / kumi ori ki ba orekh lp"k [li-frat katan]

We have dedicated this holy menorah to the merit of the soul of our righteous father, our teacher, master Gabriel son of the Rabbi P. T. Spitzer / of blessed memory / and our virtuous mother, lady Pearl, may her soul rest in Eden / in the year / 633 according to the small count [1873]

The dedication clearly indicates that the menorah was a gift made by the children to the memory of their deceased parents, Gabriel, the son of Rabbi P.T. (or P.D.) Spitzer (1772–July 31, 1856) and his wife Pearl (1788–March 19,1872). It was donated either directly to the Jewish community or to one of the Jewish associations in Prostìjov, shortly after the death of Pearl, who survived her husband by sixteen years, which was their exact difference in age. Both lived to the age of eighty-four and were buried beside each other in Prostìjov’s old Jewish cemetery, where a number of prominent Jews from the town were laid to rest. The headstones, however, are not to be found. During the Second World War the cemetery was destroyed and the Nazis had all the headstones removed and turned the site into a military training ground. After the war it became a playground and later a school was built on the site, but the memory of those who had been buried there would have been entirely forgotten if it were not for the fact that the inscriptions on most of the headstones had been painstakingly documented and deposited in the archives of the Jewish Museum in Prague, where they are located today. The story of Gabriel and Pearl’s menorah is as dramatic as the fate of those headstones, yet its ending is certainly happier as it points us to the hope in spiritual survival. 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. Now nearly seventy years later, this menorah has been selected to once again shed its light to symbolize the victory of good over evil, freedom over oppression, knowledge over ignorance. On the sixth day of Hanukkah, which this year falls on Wednesday, December 16, six candles on the menorah will be lit during a special ceremony hosted at the White House by the President of the United States, Barack Obama, and First Lady, Michelle Obama. Around 500 guests are expected to attend. Let us hope that its light will bring joy and enchantment as well as inspiration, that it transmits its appeal through the acrostic for the year 633, which on the menorah is composed by paraphrasing a line in the fifth stanza of the poem Lekha dodi (Come, my beloved) that is traditionally sung in synagogues around the world to welcome the Sabbath: “Rise up and shine, for your light has come.”

Master CS (Cyrillus Schillberger ?): Hanukkah Lamp, Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1873
Silver: repoussé, pierced, traced, and cast
Height/width/depth: 13.6 x 15.4 x 3.7 inches
Hallmark: Austro-Hungarian Empire after 1872
Maker’s mark: CS [Cyrillus Schillberger, master’s title since 1853]
Provenance: acquired by the Central Jewish Museum between 1942-1944; collection point Prossnitz [Prostìjov], Moravia

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