Lighting up the gallery

From an Ethiopian clay creation to a peace offering, 43 hanukkiot are on display in Ra’anana until the end of the month.

A bronze hanukkia made in the 1960s by Nomi and Arieh Schechter. (photo credit: COURTESY RA’ANANA MUNICIPAL GALLERY)
A bronze hanukkia made in the 1960s by Nomi and Arieh Schechter.
The Ra’anana Municipal Gallery is holding an exhibition of hanukkiot until the end of December.
It is a fascinating glimpse into the development of the hanukkia as an artifact, as well as an insight into the extraordinary creativity of the people who designed and crafted them.
No two of the 43 hanukkiot on display are remotely alike, attesting to the artists’ ability to take a basic notion and reproduce it in endless different forms.
In the case of the hanukkia, there will always be certain givens – eight small cups to hold the candles or oil, representing each of the eight days of Hanukka, and one shamash (translated as “helper” or “servant”) to light them. After that, the sky’s the limit.
Materials, shapes and decorations run the gamut from the very simple to the excessively ornate.
The artists who created them expressed their Zionism, their beliefs and their artistic style in their artifacts.
“Everything we display brings a message of some sort,” says Orna Fichman, director of the gallery and curator of the exhibition. “The catalogue cover says it all. At the front we have a hanukkia depicting ‘A Hundred Years of Zionism’ made by artist Arieh Ofer in the 1980s, with pictures of the Pyramids, the pioneers, Herzl, the liberation of the Kotel in 1967, all clearly visible; at the back, a rough clay depiction of the downtrodden Jew in the shtetl. From beginning to end, the tradition continues.”
Four collectors have loaned parts of their collections to the gallery, most of which come from the home of Benzion (Benno) Ze’ev, who showed me around the exhibition. A pensioner who worked until 10 years ago at Israel Military Industries, he began his hanukkia collection about 15 years ago. Collecting is in his soul. His other collections include telecards and plates with stories from the Bible, but one gets the feeling that the hanukkiot are very close to his heart.
“We were only able to display a limited number of menorot because there are only 18 display cases here,” he says. “They are shown more or less in chronological order.”
While Fichman would be the first to admit that the display cases available to her are limited in size and depth, one can see that they are ideally suited to show objects which are, for the most part, tall and thin and flat. One or two are slightly rotund, such as the colorful ceramic piece ordered by Ze’ev from artist Mark Yudel.
While the majority of the items are kosher in the sense that all the cups are at the same level, this one is not, a fact that does not seem to bother Ze’ev in the slightest. The arrangement of the hanukkiot is chronological, so this piece is actually the last one, as it was made in 2014.
The first two items, from the 1930s, are from the collection of Tami Talisman.
Both were made by Ze’ev Raban, a teacher at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem. He was born Wolf Rawicki in Poland in 1890 and moved to Palestine in 1912, teaching industrial design among other things, Ze’ev points out some of the motifs on one of the hanukkiot depicting Rachel’s Tomb as being influenced by the Art Nouveau movement (“Yes, it was earlier than the 1930s, but we are always a little behind,” he smiles), while the second, made of wood, is clearly a product of the Art Deco trend of the ’30s.
The decade of the 1940s is represented by a ceramic creation by Eva Samuel. It is a simple semicircle showing the Maccabees fighting, with the words “A great miracle happened here” inscribed across it. Samuel is known as the great mother of Israeli ceramics, arriving here in 1932 and opening Hayotser, the first ceramics workshop in Jerusalem, and another later in Rishon Lezion. She died in 1989.
After Israel’s independence, explains Ze’ev, with the huge influx of immigrants, the market for hanukkiot became much bigger, and better materials were becoming available.
There are several items from the 1950s, including a whimsical one depicting nine Maccabee soldiers. They each hold a shield (although one or two are missing), and their spears are topped with the cups to hold the candles. This one, made of bronze and wood, was crafted by students of ORT vocational schools.
It is from the collection of Dr. Haim Grossman, who also researched the subject and wrote the article in the gallery’s catalogue.
Others hanukkiot from this period show familiar figures from the 1950s scene in Israel – pioneers, soldiers, both male and female, and rabbis.
Several were made by well-known artists of the period such as Natan Shlagman and Maurice Ashkelon.
The first item in Ze’ev’s collection is a bronze hanukkia that was made in the 1960s by Nomi and Arieh Schechter, whose workshop called Tamar produced gifts and artwork.
It has several motifs from the sources – Noah’s Ark, the dove and the Hebrew word “Shalom” spelled out to create the shape of the hanukkia.
From this modest start, Ze’ev quickly added many more pieces, including several from the Bezalel school – one typical of the 1960s with Eilat stones embedded in silver.
The work representing David Palombo is a harsh series of iron spikes from the collection of Ze’ev Zelig. The story of this fine artist is tragic. He came from Turkey as a child and studied at the Bezalel Academy.
His best-known works are the gates of the Knesset and those of Yad Vashem.
He was killed when his motorcycle hit a chain put across a street to stop Shabbat traffic.
The decade of the 1970s is represented by a large array of more creatively designed hanukkiot, such as the one produced by the Na’aman factory in cobalt blue and gold; the all-glass creation of Gila Bar-Tal, which was sold in Maskit (the store started by Ruth Dayan to promote Israeli handicrafts); and several from the Harsa factory, which also produced bathroom porcelain.
There is no limit to the imaginations of contemporary designers: A Spode English-made ceramic hanukkia covered in flowers; a Gabi Ben- Haim triangular piece depicting a weeping face; the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life each made in bronze by different artists; and a clay piece made by Ethiopian artist Tanat Auka depicting a kes (priest) holding a Torah scroll.
Finally, a colorful display of porcelain hanukkiot made in China ends the exhibition on a cheap and cheerful note.