Intermountain Jewish News

Banner
Thursday,
Jul 31st
Home Columns Reflections My grandmother’s candlesticks

My grandmother’s candlesticks

E-mail Print PDF

I ENTERED the classroom of 32 seventh graders at the worst time imaginable — seventh period on a Friday afternoon, the weekend before winter break. I knew the deck was stacked against me. I had been warned by the very enthusiastic teacher who asked me to read my short story as part of her unit on ethnic literature, that this class was a “rowdy” group.

I came prepared with two grocery bags, one filled with boxes of donuts and soda and the other with my copy of Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul and my grandmother’s candlesticks.

I knew one thing for certain; Even if the students didn’t understand my story, they would appreciate the Jewish tradition that learning should be a sweet experience.  Munching on donuts while listening to me read would capture their stomachs, if not their hearts.

I scanned the overcrowded classroom; typical adolescents sporting pimples, nose rings, hair gel and Attitude. When the teacher introduced me as the local Tucson author who wrote a short story called “Grandmother’s Candlesticks,” eyes rolled, chairs tilted back and notebooks opened in preparation for some serious doodling.

I would have given anything for my grandmother to be able to see what transpired in the classroom that day. For in the period of less than an hour, a multi-cultural group of boisterous teens came together in a rare moment of understanding, compassion and kinship.

HOW did the story about a pair of brass candlesticks secretly brought over from Russia in the lining of a coat capture the minds and hearts of children who had never heard of a pogrom or of the Jewish Sabbath?

Why did the image of my aging grandmother struggling to remain central in the lives of her children touch their imaginations and their souls?

And who would have imagined that as I read about my grandmother handing me the candlesticks with her blessing before she died, students would break down sobbing, remembering their own grandmothers, aunts, uncles and parents who had died too soon, leaving them with too little?

When I finished reading, I passed the heavy brass candlesticks, covered in years of wax, up and down the rows of students. It was as if they felt the weight of tradition in their hands as they gently handed the candlesticks to one another. I asked if anyone wanted to share his or her feelings or ask me questions about what I wrote.

At first no one spoke. A pale-looking girl stood and walked to the front of the room, sniffling and wiping her nose with the back of her sleeve. She asked whether she could read a poem she had written for her father who had died in the hospital less than three months before. She had been carrying it around with her since he died, but had never read it to anyone. In a child’s whisper, she spoke directly to her father in couplet form, without hesitation or fear.

As she walked back to her seat, friends crowded around her hugging her small frame, handing her a Kleenex, offering her support.

Then a tough-looking young man who had scribbled throughout my reading stood up and told his story. He didn’t have a grandmother or a grandfather, he said, or even a mother. They had all been killed by a drunk driver when he was four. He wished he had something like the brass candlesticks, something they had shared together with old wax or fingerprints on it, because it was like having a piece of them with you forever.

AS child after child told of a “tia,” “abuela” or “nana” with whom they had lived, loved and lost, the classroom became a sanctuary for years of unspoken grief. The bell rang but no one wanted to leave.

I gathered my things, hugged a few of the students and said goodbye. I had almost reached my car when I heard someone call my name.

Turning toward the voice, I stared into the face of Celeste, one of the students in the class who hadn’t said a word.

“Would you please talk to my father?” she implored. “I really want to go to Phoenix — to the cemetery to see my grandpa — he died a while ago — I can’t get there by myself — I have to go but he won’t take me.”

Her words came out like choked staccato notes; short, sharp and pointed.

“Well, honey, I could call him if you want but . . . ”

“You don’t have to,” she interrupted, “he’s sitting right over there in that pick-up truck.”

I slowly turned my head and saw a very big truck across the parking lot. I walked toward it and awkwardly looked into the face of a man I had never met and told him how much it would mean to his daughter if she could visit her grandfather’s grave; to have the chance to tell him what was on her mind and in her heart.

He grunted, said he’d think about it, and revved the engine which was my signal that the conversation had ended. I felt bad, thinking that I hadn’t helped the situation much and that Celeste would never have the closure she so desperately needed with her grandfather.

Weeks later I received a letter on notebook paper from Celeste. Tears filled my eyes when I read her words. Her father had taken her to Phoenix to visit her grandfather. She was lucky, she said, because now she could visit him whenever they went there.

She had written me the letter so that I would have something permanent to keep by which to remember her. Not as nice as those candlesticks, she wrote, but something special just the same.

Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Last Updated ( Thursday, 20 February 2014 00:05 )  

IJN e-Edition

This is only a taste! Get full access to the IJN via our e-Edition, only $14.04 for IJN Print subscribers.

E-Edition subscribers get access to a complete digital replica of the IJN, which includes all special sections.

Get the IJN's free newsletter!

Shabbat Times

JTA News

Israel, Hamas agree to 72-hour cease-fire, with Israeli troops in place

Ron Kampeas Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour unconditional cease-fire. ... [Link]

Protesters threaten British cosmetics store that sells Israeli products

Marcy Oster A cosmetics store in Manchester, England, that sells Israeli cosmetics has been victimized by callers threatening to kill the staff and burn down the store. ... [Link]

NYT on why it hasn’t shown photos of Hamas fighters: We don’t have any

Uriel Heilman The New York Times says it eagerly pursues photos from both sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict, but so far their photographer in Gaza hasn’t even seen anyone carrying a gun. ... [Link]

Israeli tourists evacuated from Maldives

Marcy Oster Israeli tourists in the Maldives had to be evacuated from the island nation after an Israeli surfer removed an anti-Israel sign from outside a guest house. ... [Link]

Obama spokesmen urge Israel to exercise greater caution with civilians

Ron Kampeas An array of Obama administration spokesmen said Israel had to exercise greater caution in avoiding civilian casualties during the current Gaza conflict, citing shelling on a shelter that killed at lea... [Link]

Detroit-area USPS clarifies position after local branch refuses mail to Israel

Ron Kampeas The metropolitan Detroit regional office of the U.S. Postal Service issued a clarification to its branches after a local post office said it could not accept mail sent to Israel. ... [Link]

U.S. sells munitions to Israel from its surplus stockpile

Ron Kampeas The U.S. Defense Department sold to Israel munitions from its Israel-based surplus stockpile. ... [Link]

Thousands attend pro-Israel rally in Paris

Cnaan Liphshiz Thousands of people attended France’s largest pro-Israel rally since the launch of the Israel Defense Forces’ offensive in Gaza. ... [Link]

Intermountain Jewish News • 1177 Grant Street • Denver, CO 80203 • 303 861 2234 • FAX 303 832 6942
email@ijn.com • larry@ijn.com • lori@ijn.com