Israel Museum

“One Nation, Many Faces”

Special thanks to Paula
Colb, Docent, Israel Museum, for her help in preparing this article

Leo Lionni, Italian,

born 1910, active USA

Hannukah lamp (prototype),


Glass, fabric ribbons

Ht: 9.5 in

(Courtesy: Israel Museum)

Religious observance through functional art is a form of personal expression
that has manifested itself in many examples throughout the ages. Chanukah
is a prime example of such expression.

Chanukah celebrates the victory in
166 BCE of the Maccabees — a family of the priestly tribe — against the
Seleucid Greek Army. The Temple in Jerusalem had been defiled and rededication
was to begin with the lighting of the seven branched menorah. The only consecrated
oil was enough for one day but it miraculously lasted for eight days. The
miracle of this victory is commemorated through a series of religious observances
that last eight nights. The most widely observed of these is the lighting
of a chanukiyya
[candelabra] for eight days.

To be kosher under Jewish law,
the chanukiyya or candelabra must hold eight evenly spaced lights in
a linear pattern plus one additional “light” — the shamash — on
a raised level. Beyond the laws of how to arrange and the order in which
to light the candles or oil, the design of the chanukiyya is open
to artistic interpretation. Today, as in the past, people design the chanukiyya
to reflect their personal reflection of the Macabbi story, their culture and
their environment.

Achille Castiglioni

Italian, born 1918

Menorah (prototype), 1985

Vacuum-formed plastic,

metal, rubber

Ht: 16 in

(Courtesy: Israel Museum)
The Israel Museum’s vast array of
about 80 chanukiyyot are displayed together, offering a picture of
the varied cultural backgrounds that Jews experienced in Israel and the diaspora.
The variety of designs illustrates how the Jewish people are “one nation,
many faces”. Each lamp has the same function but each is different, reflecting
the country of origin and period in which it was made. The influences of
the local culture, art style, materials available, and architecture are all
readily seen in the lamps exhibited.

One brass eighteenth century lamp features
two figures carrying a large grape cluster, a reference to the biblical
story of the spies sent into the Promised Land. As a reflection of the artist’s
period, the male figures are depicted in local dress — one in top hat and
tails! It is further adorned with two large hot air balloons — a new invention
of the era, and featured prominently, a goose atop an egg, the city symbol
of The Hague.

From the same century a Polish lamp
represents the typical synagogue architecture. An ornate silver chanukiyya
from 1769 made in Germany includes several motifs found in Jewish art: the
menorah from the First Temple, lions, two figures which are meant to be Moses
and Aaron, as well as bears and a two-headed eagle, also symbols of German

Chanukah lamps from North African countries
like Morocco and Algeria, reflect typical Moslem motifs: Moroccan domes,
arches and Arabesque decorations. One lamp includes the hamsah or
upraised palm — a well-known Middle Eastern sign for good luck.

There are two other Chanukah lamps
that immediately catch the eye for their unusual colorful materials: a 1900
Jerusalem lamp made from glass, beads, and cotton threads, and a 1960 Moroccan
lamp made from printed sheet metal intended for sardine cans and bits of
fabric. These remind us that Jewish ceremonial objects around the world
are made of expensive and rare materials when possible, or simple, readily
available and inexpensive materials when necessary.


are on permanent display at the Israel Museum.

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