Maurice Sendak picks some of Hanukkah’s greatest menorahs

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Maurice Sendak became famous and beloved by showing generations of children and parents “Where the Wild Things Are.” Now the author-illustrator is pointing to where the beautiful menorahs are.

For its current exhibition, “An Artist Remembers: Hanukkah Lamps Selected by Maurice Sendak,” the Jewish Museum in Sendak’s native New York asked him to browse its extensive collection of ceremonial candelabra and pick 33 to go on display.

While Sendak mulled his choices, curators at the Jewish Museum recorded his comments; audio excerpts are part of the exhibition, along with two of his drawings. According to the news release announcing the show, Sendak, 83, “often free-associated, whimsically recalling old movies and Catskills family vacations.”

Sendak noted that the nine-branch Hanukkah menorahs that spoke to him went “right to the heart.” His picks range from a 250-year-old handmade silver piece from Altona, Germany, to the middle 20th century. Nations of origin include Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Galicia (now divided between Poland and Ukraine), Germany, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and the United States. One of his picks, a plain, copper menorah with a star of David (pictured at right), is especially poignant: dated December 1945, seven months after the fall of the Third Reich, it was made by Holocaust survivors in a displaced persons camp in Frankfurt am Lech, Germany, the former site of a Nazi concentration camp.


It’s inscribed ‘a great miracle happened there,’ a traditional phrase referring to Hanukkah’s origin in Jewish revolutionaries’ triumph in the 2nd century over Hellenistic rulers who’d suppressed their religion. A plate at the front of the base is inscribed, ‘To our liberator, the glorious hero Gen. Joseph T. McNarney,’ who had given safe harbor to Jewish refugees fleeing to the American sector after being persecuted in Poland after the war.

More elegant pieces include the one at the top, made in Germany around 1900, and the silver menorah below, created in Copenhagen in 1924.

It would take 1,452 candles, by the way, to light all 33 menorahs in the show on each of the holiday’s eight nights. However, the ones culled from the Jewish Museum’s 27,000-object collection for the exhibition won’t be getting dripped on; being museum pieces has excused them from seasonal duty.

This year Hanukkah begins at sundown on Dec. 20.


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Photos (from top): A silver-plated menorah believed to be from Germany, late 19th or early 20th century; Maurice Sendak in 2009; a copper menorah made in a displaced persons camp in Germany in December 1945; a silver menorah made by Barukh Shlomo Griegst in Copenhagen in 1924. Credits: Jewish Museum (menorahs) and HBO (Sendak)