A Sanctuary At Home (Rabbi Shalhevet)

Rabbi ShalhevetWe moved our services from people in the synagogue to only the clergy in the synagogue. Then we moved our services to our homes. As Helayne and I navigated how to move everything we do at work to our home, we began to create a sacred space in our house from where we would lead Shabbat Evening services, Shabbat morning Services, B’nei Mitzvah, and Shavuot Festival Services. Our space had to be set up technologically of course, with two or three cameras attached to computers – one to record, one to be on the Torah, and one to view us as leaders, an iPad, and two music stands to hold computers, cue sheets, readings etc. We used our son’s desk lamp to adjust the lighting in the room when shadows fell the wrong way, and I built a Torah stand out of the coffee table from downstairs and the wall, all retrofitted with furniture pads in order to keep the Torah standing safely upright so the Torah could be viewed at the proper angle by the computer camera while one of us or a Bar or Bat Mitzvah child read from it. We needed a table that could be seen from the camera angle that could hold the ritual objects – candles, kiddush cup etc. I used a small bedside table with a bench on top of it covered with my mother’s Shabbat tablecloth to create the “ritual object table.” It came time to set up the ritual objects. Last Passover, my parents accidentally took home our kiddush cups when they left for their house. They were going to bring them back this year. However, like many other things, the Coronavirus Pandemic spoiled those plans. There were no guests at Passover, so we still have not received our kiddush cups. Oh well, we had other kiddush cups downstairs – we picked one. Then came time to pick the candlesticks… Being rabbis, we have received our fair share of candlesticks as gifts throughout our lives. So, we had many to choose from. For my Bat Mitzvah, my brother had purchased for me two silver candlesticks which he asked that I wait to use until I was married. I listened to him. We had a set of candlesticks that were more of a modern take. They look like beautiful designs on their own but when placed together, they make a Jewish star. Breathtaking. The list goes on. Which candlesticks would I choose in my home sanctuary? I really didn’t have to think for long. My eyes were immediately drawn to two small, unassuming bronze candlesticks. They sat on a mirrored tray. They were originally made for a size candle that you can’t find in a store anymore, so my father had fitted a larger candle holder on top and connected them with some clear tubing. I knew I would use those. They were my grandmother’s. And they were her grandmother’s before her. These candlesticks had survived two overseas journeys – one from Odessa to Argentina, and one from Argentina to Ellis Island. These candlesticks had somehow survived the Romanovs, the Communists, the Czars. These candlesticks represent survival. Of course, I would bring in the Sabbath light with my great great-grandmother’s candlesticks. This Pandemic has affected us all in so many varied ways. Bringing the strength of so many generations of strong women in my life who fought to light their Shabbat candles to my leading of services from my home in dangerous times, brought me strength too.

And so, we lit them in our home Sanctuary for the last time (hopefully), for the clergy have returned to North Shore Synagogue to record services. I hope we only move forward. I hope we only remain healthy. I hope this COVID Pandemic becomes just another time period that these beautiful, plain, old, tarnished, candlesticks have survived.