The Synagogue Chandelier
from Memoirs of Jacob M. Rothbart

 

 Gombin: the Synagogue 1712-1939

This event took place when I was a very young child. I was then in the cheder, under the tutelage of Mordechai Melamed. When we had concluded the study of the Sedreh (Torah portion of the week), just as we were about to go home, Rabbi Mordechai called to us and said, "Children, tomorrow, God willing, you do not have to come to cheder. Tomorrow, the chandelier is being brought to the synagogue."

The affair over the chandelier had been brewing for a long time in Gombin. The well-to-do young men, together with the aidems oif kest (youths supported by rich in-laws), had long been discussing the fact that something had to be done in order to revitalize the old synagogue, which, although showing its age, was deeply cherished by everyone. They had, therefore, decided that a new, modern chandelier would be the perfect ornament for the purpose.

So, a collection was started, and they solicited and collected--as much as the traffic would bear: Groshens, Guildens, Rubles; no matter what the amount one gave, it was not refused. The episode, however, stretched over a long time, and many eventually gave up hope that the necessary sum needed for the chandelier would ever be amassed.

But the day arrived. It had been heard in the town that a young man from Gombin had been in Warsaw and, finding it along his way, he had gone to look at chandeliers in Elstein's chandelier factory. There he had seen a lamp that was uniquely exquisite, yet reasonably priced. On his homecoming he described what he had seen in Warsaw, including the beautiful chandelier and its cost. A committee was immediately dispatched to deal with the matter, and they secured a bargain of a lamp, which was indescribably beautiful. "A masterpiece," it was called, even before the chandelier had arrived from Warsaw.

On an early summer day or so I think), the lamp, together with the committee, was due to arrive in Gombin. It was decided in the town to make this occasion a holiday and to escort the chandelier into the synagogue with a parade.

I do not know whether there was someone who directed or arranged the procession of the parade. More likely, it formed by itself (as all mass scenes do). Even the best play director could probably not have staged a march as splendid as this one. At the head of the procession was the broad wagon that carried the chandelier. Behind the wagon followed the Rabbi, the Cantor, the Dayin (a man who ruled on questions of religious law, like an assistant rabbi), the Beadles, and other learned men of the community. After them followed the synagogue administrators (well-to-do Jews), the burial society, older Jews, middle aged men--a profusion of handsome beards, grey and black. Then came the youths, with their first sprouting of whiskers, and children of various ages. The youngest boys, faces flushed with elation, were the most gleeful in the parade. From the side streets--women, young and old. Everyone's face had an expression of gratification, as if they were shrouded in the holy light of the Shekinah (divine manifestation). They did not show too much gratification, for Jews are not allowed to be overly joyous, but each face radiated an inner happiness.

In my later years, I have seen many creations by Jewish artists which portrayed mass scenes of Jews. One painting was called "Exile." It portrayed a great multitude of Jews wandering in a desert, a storm wind chasing them. Tired and downtrodden, with flaming, twisted beards, they dragged themselves through the desolation, chased by the storm wind. But never have I seen a painting by a Jewish artist that portrayed such a stirring sight as the congregation of Jews, with such happy faces, as I saw in Gombin on the day the chandelier was escorted to the synagogue. This image has stayed with me through the years, and I will never forget it, even to the last days of my life.

When the lamp had been brought into the synagogue, and when it had been hung on the previously prepared chain, and when the flames and the lights were finally lit on the chandelier adorned with cut crystals, the illumination gave the synagogue an air of majesty. The wood-carved Holy Ark, draped by a gold-bordered blue coverlet, was more distinctive. The stained glass windows took on a different light, and the entire synagogue had new life.

I am quite sure that to this day the Jews of Gombin can recall the image that they saw the day they came into the synagogue: the brilliant chandelier that hung in front of the lectern.

 

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