Object of the Month - December - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Object of the Month - December

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Hanukkiyah (Hanukkah Menorah)David Polombo (1920-1966)Rock and iron, c. 1963. 

Hanukkah, which begins this year on the evening of December 16th, commemorates the miraculous military victory in 165 BCE of a small number of Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, over the oppressive ruling Syrian-Greek government, which had commanded the Jews to worship only Greek idols under penalty of death. When the Maccabees re-conquered Jerusalem, they found that the Syrians had desecrated the Temple. The Maccabees cleansed and rededicated the Temple by lighting its seven-branched menorah, or candelabrum, with a small amount of oil that remained. Miraculously, the oil, enough for only one day, burned for the eight days of the Festival of Dedication—Hanukkah—in Hebrew.

For more than 2000 years, Jews around the world have reenacted the Temple rededication by lighting and blessing oil lamps, and more recently, candles for eight nights. The candleholder is called a Hanukkiyah, a Hanukkah lamp, or a menorah. The Hanukkiyah holds nine candles. Since the light of the Hanukkiyah may not be used for work or illumination, a shamash, or servant light, is lit first and used to kindle the others. On the first night of Hanukkah, one light is lit, with an additional candle lit on each subsequent night. Traditionally, the lighted Hanukkah lamp is placed near a window in the home.

Hanukkiyot exist in a multitude of styles and materials, and tremendous creativity has been shown in their manufacture.  A wonderful example of the ingenuity involved in creating unique designs for hanukkiyot is a rock and iron design which is housed in our permanent collection.  This hanukkiyah is the work of Israeli sculptor and painter, David Palombo. The stark, spiky iron elements of this hanukkiyah are warmed by the natural rock forms.

David Palombo was born in Turkey and immigrated to the Land of Israel with his parents in 1923. In 1940 he began his studies at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, and from 1942 as a student of sculptor Ze’ev Ben-Zvi. For a period of time, Palombo was an assistant at Ben-Zvi’s studio and also taught at Bezalel.

Palombo’s known works include the gates to the memorial building at Yad Vashem (1960) and the gates to the Knesset. The latter were created shortly before his death, caused by an accident in which his motorcycle hit a chain used by Haredim to block the entrance to the Yamin Moshe neighborhood on the eve of Shabbat.