Hanukkah Clean-Up 2017/2018: The Oven Method

Posted on December 28th, 2017 by

A blog post by Associate Director Tracie Guy-Decker. Read more posts from Tracie by clicking HERE.

I know people overuse the phrase “it changed my life,” especially at this resolution-time of the year, but I can honestly say that when I learned the oven-method of hanukkiah wax removal, it greatly increased my enjoyment of the festival of lights! Before I learned this method, I used to spend hours with a fork or a toothpick or sometimes a chopstick chipping away at wax our menorahs. I would scrape and poke and curse and then start the cycle over again. It was as far from Hanukkah joy as you could get. Now that I use the oven method, even the clean-up of the holiday feels like a blessing.

To share the added joy, I wanted to walk you through it.

First, a glimpse of my house on the final night of Hanukkah:

We light 9 menorahs at the Guy-Decker household each year. Why? Because we can.  On the final night, the heat off of the 81 candles is palpable, and the light is truly joyous.

The wax is a bi-product of the joy. The greater the joy, the higher the wax build-up.

For this demonstration, I’m going to show you the oven-method on this brass menorah that belonged to my husband’s grandfather. Its “before” picture is particularly intimidating with that thick barrier of blue and white wax build up.

To remove this build-up I followed these steps:

1. Pre-heat the oven to between 180 and 200 degrees.

2. Break off any wax that will come off easily and discard. Do not work at this: if it doesn’t come off easily, leave it.

3. Cover a cookie sheet in aluminum foil. Make sure the foil overlaps the edges of the sheet so you don’t end up with waxy cookie sheets.

Place the menorah face down (or as face-down as you can manage—the key is that the candle cups are oriented downward so that liquefied wax will poor out).

4. Place the cookie sheet into the oven for approximately 20 minutes

5. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and carefully (it’s hot!) remove the menorah from the cookie sheet (you might want to have prepared another piece of foil if you’re worried about removing wax from the counters, too). You should be leaving a puddle of wax on the foil on the cookie sheet.

If you’re not, and the wax is still mostly on the menorah, put it all back into the oven for another 5 minutes, or until you have puddling.

6. Carefully (it’s still hot!) wipe the liquid wax from the menorah with a clean rag. (Use a thicker rag so the heat doesn’t bother your hands.)

a. Fold the rag after each wipe so that you’re not just moving wax around.

b. If your menorah has small nooks and crannies, you can use a q-tip or other small tool to wipe out the liquid wax (I used my rag around a kabob skewer to get into the openings in the star points).

c. If you have a very ornate menorah, you might need to put it back into the oven for a few minutes if your detail work in one area allows the wax to cool too much in another area.

7. Discard the foil and the rag.

8. Voila! You’re ready for next Hanukkah.

So, what do you think? Life changing? Ok, so maybe it’s not on par with falling in love or finding your dream home, but I hope that it does make your dream menorah more of a possibility for you. Come down and see us at Esther’s Place. I bet you’ll be looking at our fancy and fanciful hannukiot in a new light now that you know the oven method!

P.S. Even with the oven method, I recommend sticking with white and/or beeswax candles for the really ornate menorahs out there. I would also note that in my experience, cheaper candles make more wax.

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A Family’s Menorah

Posted on December 14th, 2017 by

A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

This week, my college alumni Facebook group has been running a “show us your menorah” thread. Even better than the fun photos submitted are the short stories about each menorah’s origins and meaning, from heirloom antiques to kids’ craft projects and everything in between. Naturally enough, this got me thinking about the JMM’s collection of hanukiahs.  Each one has a story to tell, whether through information shared by the donor, or physical evidence of use and love.

Two women look over student entries in a menorah contest held by the JCC, December 1978. Gift of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore. JMM 2006.13.1103

I thought at first that I’d try to identify my favorite menorah for today’s post, and I started going through each catalog record as if it was a contest or an audition. But I couldn’t decide! So instead of claiming a winner, I settled on giving this particular example a few moments in the spotlight.

Silver and metal menorah, created from older pieces in the 1920s and used by the Weistock family of the Ukraine and Baltimore. Gift of Regina Weistock. JMM 1985.26.1

This menorah is not the largest (or smallest, for that matter) one in our collections, nor is it the fanciest or oldest or any other superlative along those lines… but it caught my eye because it looks like it was created out of several pieces, with the contrast between the clean, modern arms and the more rococo-looking base. The lamp consists of eight silver oil cups, plus a brass shamash, on a silver bar atop a repoussé metal base (likely an alloy, perhaps white metal or Brittania metal), with curled silver arms supporting the top.  These disparate pieces are of very different styles, and a close look reveals the various screws and solder holding it all together, but the finished lamp has its own unique look amongst the more ‘typical’ pieces in our collection.

A little further investigation brought to light this story from the donor, Regina Weistock (1912-2006):

“The 8 silver cups that are soldered on the silver bar were used by Reb Levi Itzahak of Berdichev. My parents [Hilda Senenovsky and Hyman Weistock] were born in Berdichev and an ancestor of my father’s bought these silver cups (there were 9 of them) for 3000 rubles. For a number of generations they were handed down to the youngest in the family. My father was the youngest in his family. When he was leaving Russia for the United States [around 1899] an older brother wanted to buy them from him, because he said ‘when you get to America you will become a goy.’ This, of course, did not happen.

“My father died in 1925. By that time we had only the 8 cups. My mother took them to a jeweler by the name of Michaelson and asked him to put together some way so no more would be lost. Mr. Michaelson fashioned the silver bar and side arms and then connected them to this interesting stand. Since my father’s death we stuck candles into the little cups. They are actually made for oil and wick.”

That would likely be Nathan J. Michaelson & Son, who advertised in the 1926 Baltimore City directory as a “manufacturing jeweler” at 722 E. Baltimore Street. We don’t know if the “interesting stand” was a leftover piece in his workshop, or an antique he acquired with the thought of turning it into something else. The pattern is so worn that I’m not sure what it originally depicted; this part definitely warrants a little more research.

Top view

Though Ms. Weistock didn’t expand on the history of the menorah after the 1920s, it clearly enjoyed many Chanukah celebrations. True, the base may have been worn or damaged before Mr. Michaelson put it to a new use, but it seems more likely that much of the wear and tear came thanks to the Weistock family (a large one; Hyman and Hilda had seven children) and their annual use of a treasured heirloom. Many of the menorahs in our collection are broken and/or repaired, reminding us that these artifacts are not simply for show; they were handled, loved, and maintained, for years or even generations, moved from home to home and country to country.

Detail: base

Detail 2: column

In addition to the history of the silver cups, Ms. Weistock added another element that had meaning for her: a connection to the broader world of Judaica and art history.  She concluded her notes, “When in 1949 I visited the Bezalel Museum in Jerusalem I found there a room given over entirely to Hanukiah. In that room is a glass cabinet that contains a few Hanukiah that look exactly as this one and they are labelled as dating circa 1750. Mr. Michaelson must have known of these when he got the base he did for our silver cups.”

Side view

So, JMM blog readers, show us your menorahs! What stories and memories do they hold? (We promise it’s not a contest!)

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It’s not too late to decorate!

Posted on December 9th, 2015 by

In a previous existence, I was in charge of decorating an historic house museum for “the holidays” every December.  This usually meant Christmas decorations, since it was a house built in the early 19th century for a family of Episcopalians.  However, the house is also the main museum of the Montgomery County Historical Society (Rockville, Md.) so we did our best to change things up, and incorporate the holiday traditions of 20th and 21st century County residents.

Thus, in 2013 we decorated the parlor as if it were ready for a 1960s Chanukah celebration. I borrowed era-appropriate menorahs and dreidels from a few County families, but other elements were harder to come by.  Thank goodness for the internet and the public library, which provided me with some examples of vintage decorations (and the history behind them).  I found several variations (like this one) on bright and colorful “Happy Hanukkah” banners, which would suit the parlor walls – so, being well-versed in having to invent ‘antique’ decorations, I made my own banner.  Here it is, hanging on the wall of the circa 1815 Beall-Dawson House, above an 1840s pianoforte.

Photo courtesy of Montgomery History, Rockville, Maryland.

Photo courtesy of Montgomery History, Rockville, Maryland.

Why am I writing about this now, two years later?  Well, for one thing, it’s a chance to show off my craft skills; for another, it’s an opportunity to encourage you to look for – and make noise if you do not find –  Jewish history within ‘general’ history museums. But really, it’s because some of the sources I used in 2013 came from the JMM collections, via our online database, and last week I came across two of those fabulous images again:

Elayne Fedder, Bernice Friedman, Myrna Cardin, and Belle Legum at the JCC Volunteers’ Chanukah Party, circa 1970.  Donated by the JCC.  JMM# 2006.013.456

Elayne Fedder, Bernice Friedman, Myrna Cardin, and Belle Legum at the JCC Volunteers’ Chanukah Party, circa 1970. Donated by the JCC. JMM# 2006.013.456

Chanukah crafts at the JCC, circa 1970.  Donated by the JCC.  JMM#2006.013.274b

Chanukah crafts at the JCC, circa 1970. Donated by the JCC. JMM#2006.013.274b

These great photos prompted me to delve a little further into the collections, looking for even more holiday decorations.  Alas, we do not have an original paper banner, but I did find some helpful hints for making your own décor.  Many of the contemporary sources advise parents to make Chanukah – though not the most important of holidays – a bright and festive time for their children. Much has been written about the whys and hows of Chanukah celebrations in modern America, and I can hardly hope to cover it all in one blog post; but for now, it’s worth noting that as private and public Christmas decorations became more and more popular in the mid 20th century, so too did Chanukah decorations.

For example, in The Jewish Home Beautiful (The National Women’s League of the United Synagogue of America, 1941), the authors advise the liberal use of crepe paper flowers and streamers, or even “a large dreidel made out of parchment or crepe paper of many bright colors;” they continue, “the color scheme should be predominately orange, the usual color of the Hanukkah candles, with green or blue as a complementary color.”

In Happy Chanuko, a 1943 picture book written by Jane Bearman and published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (our copy was collected by Baltimore educator Louis L. Kaplan), the young protagonists are posed in front of a variety of decorative pieces, like this crepe paper streamer and electric Star of David.

“Happy Chanuko”, 1943. Louis L. Kaplan collection, donated by Efrem Potts. JMM#1995.192.158

“Happy Chanuko”, 1943. Louis L. Kaplan collection, donated by Efrem Potts. JMM#1995.192.158

Holiday decorating is not for everyone, and yes, Chanukah has already begun; but if this post has inspired you, I say it’s never too late to decorate! I’ll leave you with some instructions, and encouraging words, from the 1947 Hanukkah syllabus of the Holiday Institute for Jewish Mothers:

Decoration ideas, including wall streamers and a large star, from “The Holiday Institute for Jewish Mothers: Hanukkah,” (Bureau of Jewish Education, Buffalo, New York, December 1947).  Rabbi Uri Miller Collection, donated by Jerome Kadden.  JMM#1995.173.032

Decoration ideas, including wall streamers and a large star, from “The Holiday Institute for Jewish Mothers: Hanukkah,” (Bureau of Jewish Education, Buffalo, New York, December 1947). Rabbi Uri Miller Collection, donated by Jerome Kadden. JMM#1995.173.032

“There are so few ready-made decorations for Hanukkah one can purchase, and what fun would that be anyway! So with family cooperation, a little creativity and materials such as crepe paper, paste etc., it is surprising how well we can express our ideas. . . . We hope you will enjoy creating Holiday fun.  This is your Decoration Committee signing off and wishing you all a very Happy Hanukkah.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.




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