When I was growing up in Berkeley, we brought out these candlesticks every Friday night for Shabbat dinner. I don’t remember ever believing in god, but I always felt a deep connection to my culture and history when I was singing the prayer over the candles, speaking ancient Hebrew words I didn’t understand. The candlesticks were brought to America by my great-great-great grandmother Bella, who was born in a small town called Bobrovitza in the Ukraine. We know her daughter, Mary, came to the states alone, and we think Bella came later, with the candlesticks. Bella was married to a rabbi, and she was probably quite observant. She chose to give Mary the candlesticks because she promised to take care of them, and, I imagine, to light them every Friday night. But by the time Bella was gone, and my mother was alive, they lived under the sink, next to the bucket and rags. Mary took them out sometimes to scrub them with steel wool and scouring powder, which left them scarred and covered in a thick green patina. That was her idea of care, and it extended to the way she treated her daughter, Jeannette. Mary asked my mother to take the candles, and carry on her promise to Bella, to cherish them and keep the tradition alive. My mother carried them from Chicago to San Francisco, where she kept them out on the mantlepiece, lit the candles, said the prayers, and taught me and my brother the words that her parents and grandparents may never have spoken, the way Bella would have wanted.

Year: 1912

– Sam Sontag

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more