The three tall, strong, brass candlesticks stood proudly on the brass circular tray in my childhood home. They each had square bottoms so it was a puzzle to fit them evenly on the circular tray. But it worked. And when they each fell into place, I had a sense of peace and wholeness – do you know what I mean? And then there is this: I loved cleaning the candlesticks with Noxon and a big piece of a soft towel. As young as I was, I felt joy in seeing Mom’s face when I finished. It wasn’t a chore. Not for her. Not for Shabbas.
When I was very little, Mom kept the candlesticks on the black Asian-style buffet in the dining room. And over the years, as that server moved to different places in the room, the candlesticks went along for the ride. When our family group grew with grandchildren for my parents, the candlesticks moved into the kitchen on the corner of the counter – the first thing you saw when you entered the kitchen.
When we were little girls, Mom would call my sister Leslie and me to the dining room and we lit the candles together. She took the triangular lace from the small see-through satin-backed, rectangular case and put it on her head. Mom handled the actual lighting but the prayer was in unison—first in Hebrew, then in English, followed by a few seconds with a silent private prayer and then the Good Shabbas kiss. (Yes, we pronounced it Shabbas.)
When Alex and I married, Mom gave me my great grandmother’s (my namesake) two brass candlesticks and, much to my surprise and delight, she gave me the very small – tiny actually – two brass candlesticks and the very, very small mortar and pestle on a tiny round brass tray – all of which had sat for all my growing-up years next to Mom’s three big brass candlesticks. We lit candles together in our apartment and then in our first home. When we moved to our new home, my Grandmother had passed away and Mom gave me Gram’s sterling silver candlesticks. These were the very same ones which she had been given when she was our synagogue Sisterhood president and which we had all lit together so many, many times before Shabbas and holiday dinners. Since then, Gram’s candlesticks sit directly behind my two brass candlesticks, on a mirror tray, on the server in my dining room, along with the miniature set.
When our daughter Jessica was bat mitzvah she received two small brass candlesticks, which I placed in front of my two candlesticks on the server. So when we were all together, I lit my candles and Jessica lit hers and we were surrounded by my husband, our son Aaron, my parents and often my sister and her family. We recited the prayer in unison, first in Hebrew and then in English followed by a few seconds of private prayer and then the Good Shabbas kiss between each of us, to each other.
And then Mom passed away.
I brought Mom’s candlesticks, tray and lace to our home and placed them on the counter of the bar in my den where they could be seen by everyone on a daily basis. On holidays, I bring all of the candlesticks downstairs next to Mom’s.
As the family has grown over the years, we all stand around in our den wearing yarmulkes and laces from different simchas; I put on Mom’s triangular lace taking it out from the small see-through satin backed, rectangular case. And we light our candles.
Leslie and her daughters each light one of Mom’s candles. I light Gram’s and my candles and Jessica lights hers.
We each say a private prayer for a few seconds and then Good Shabbas kisses all around.
Mom had a sterling silver candle lighter – you know, the contraption that you push up a thin candle and light and use it to light your candles. Les and I took her candle lighter and placed it in a special case next to two new beautiful sterling silver candlesticks, which we purchased and donated in Mom’s memory in our synagogue. We attached a plaque that reads:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF OUR DEARLY BELOVED WIFE, MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER
ALYCE BARBARA UNGER
חנה בריינא בת פריים הירש וגסי
SHE SHOWED US THE BEAUTY OF LIFE, SHOWERED US WITH BOUNDLESS LOVE & TAUGHT US HOW TO BE A FAMILY
“OUR CUP RUNNETH OVER”
SID UNGER, LESLIE, HANK, CARRIE, MARC & MICHELLE RAPPAPORT,
FRIEDA, ALEX, AARON & JESSICA ROSENBERG
I once was at a Hadassah Nassau conference where a well-known Orthodox rebbetzin from the local Chabad spoke about women’s prayers, Techinot. She said something I will never forget. Looking out at her audience composed of women of all ages and denominations she said, “If you do nothing else to celebrate the Sabbath, light your Sabbath candles.” That is a sentiment I share with all of my readers. And also, I want you to know that I shared the plaque inscription because Shabbas candlesticks and lighting Shabbas candles with your family creates a link – a link a Mom creates. It is a wonderful link while everyone stands together, it is a link that brings those you’ve lost into your home each time you light the candles and a special link between them and future family generations.
Today, I don’t have to close my eyes to see Mom wearing that lace and lighting the candles. I feel her standing beside me when I am surrounded by our family, her hand on mine as we light our Shabbas candles.