By Jeff Kunerth
The Norman Transcript
ORLANDO, Fla. — On the shelves in the gift shop of Maitland, Fla.,’s Ohev Shalom synagogue are menorahs made of metal, hand-painted ceramic, wire and glass, including some that look like circus tents and toy trains. There are dreidels as large as cookie jars and as small as a pair of dice.
Some of the menorahs are functional, capable of being lighted to celebrate Hanukkah. Some of the dreidels — four-sided tops — will be used during Hanukkah by children playing a traditional game using foil-wrapped chocolate coins as currency.
But other pieces will be added to collections as art and decoration, joining those that have been handed down through generations as family heirlooms.
“They aren’t just religious. They are pieces of art and part of your religious heritage you can pass down to your children,” said Maureen Perlstein, who keeps a small collection of souvenir and gifted menorahs in her Casselberry home.
The collections of menorahs and dreidels are on display in many Jewish homes. Two tables set up in the living room of Barry and Penny Gold’s home display her collection of 31 menorahs.
The Lake Mary, Fla., couple began collecting menorahs when they married 41 years ago. Included in the collection is the simple metal menorah used by Barry’s grandmother and passed down through the generations.
Back when his grandmother bought the piece in Brooklyn, menorahs were purchased at a hardware store like a hammer or a saw. And every family owned just one.
“It’s not like it is now. You had one menorah in the home and you used it over and over,” said Barry, 64.
There were no menorah collections because there was nothing to collect, said Penny Gold. Now, there are thousands to choose from through online stores, shops that specialize in Judaica and even places like T.J. Maxx.
Mardi Shader has volunteered in the Ohev Shalom gift shop for nearly 20 years, long before the congregation moved into its large Maitland temple more than a year ago.
She has her own collection of menorahs and dreidels that have spread throughout her Longwood home, occupying the shelves of her living room, a cabinet in her bedroom, a shelf in her media room and the counters of her kitchen.
There are lots of menorahs and dreidels available for purchase on the Web. But there is something about holding a symbol of your faith in your hands that draws people to the gift shop in the front lobby of the synagogue.
“They want to come somewhere they can touch things. They want to feel it,” Shader said. “They want to see if it’s something they want.”
In the Golds’ collection, there’s a menorah adorned with little metal suits and dresses that reminds Penny of her father’s clothing store for women. There’s one with an immigrant family and the Statue of Liberty that reminds Barry and Penny of their grandparents, who arrived from Poland and Russia.
There are menorahs given to their children over the years with their names and dates written on the bottom. And there are odd and whimsical menorahs, like the ones with Disney characters or the piece made to look like a child’s playground with swings and a slide.
“I like funky ones, so many of them are unique and fun,” said Gold. “Every year I get one from someone, but I think they know I’m particular and that I like to shop myself.”
In Nancy Ludin’s Maitland home, her collection of dreidels resides in a curio cabinet with other pieces of Judaica. Included in the collection is a dreidel that belonged to her mother-in-law and some that belonged to her sons when they were young.
The dreidels contain a Jewish letter on each side that stands for “a great miracle happened here,” in reference to the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Greeks nearly 2,200 years ago. The menorah’s eight candles represent the miracle of a lamp kept lit by the Maccabee soldiers for eight days with only a small amount of oil.
Ludin’s collection is intentionally small — fewer than two dozen — and includes souvenirs from her travels. There’s one from a visit to Israel, and another from the Netherlands.
She has resisted the collector’s mentality of adding new pieces every year or encouraging the gifting of dreidels from friends and relatives.
She has seen what happens to treasured collections when the collector passes away. Her father-in-law was a true collector whose descendants had no interest in inheriting his lifetime of acquisitions.
“The truth is that someone else’s collection is like clutter to you,” Ludin said. “We stopped collecting, but I still get excited when I see a cute dreidel.”
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