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From Generation to Generation

From Generation to Generation

The author with her grandmother
The author with her grandmother

Place the round, white candles in the candlesticks.
Strike the match on the box of Diamond matches.
Bring in Shabbat
Eyes covered
Peace descends
A special moment has arrived
A praying moment
A spiritual moment
Passed through the generations
I light with my great-grandmothers, my grandmothers, my mother, my sister and my future generations
Some gone, some here
Some not yet, but a whisper of the Jewish future
Where each Friday we light the candles
And peace descends upon our lives
And we are given the time to pray and welcome Shabbat again

These are the memories of my childhood

Mammeleh . . . come, let’s light,” my grandmother would say. On the stove, soup bubbles and chicken roasts, and kugel acquires its lovely, crusty top. Or my mother would bring us into the dining room, where four candles were waiting to receive their flames, and begin our Friday nights that ended with the most amazing desserts. These are the memories of my childhood.

And it all starts with the candles. The flames passed from generation to generation. Only now, looking back, can I appreciate the significance of a practice that connects us to the past, the present and the future.

My paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Braun Welner (of blessed memory)—we called her Grandma Bosie—came to the United States to find a husband. Back in the small town of Kralovsky Chlemec (pronounced Kiri Helmetz), on what was then the Hungarian-Czech border, my great-grandfather was the kosher butcher. He sent her, the second eldest of his daughters, to the United States to live with Tante Fanny and Uncle Willy.

She came, she saw, she conquered! She learned English, married my grandfather, and earned money as a seamstress. She was strong, stronger than I can ever imagine myself being. She had children (twin boys), bought property (against her husband’s wishes!), and sheltered her sister, brother-in-law and their children after her sister had survived Auschwitz and life as a refugee. She survived the murders of her brother, sister, mother, father, nephew at the hands of the Nazis. She survived learning about my grandfather’s previous marriage (surprise!) and the knowledge that she was stepmother to twin daughters who had survived the Holocaust and were living in Israel.

And through it all . . . she lit the flames of the Shabbat candles. Because that’s what we do.

My mother also lit the candles, although she came to them a bit later in life. Her own upbringing was a secular Judaism, and when she married my father, she began to incorporate more of the traditions into her own routine. It’s hard for me to remember a time in my childhood when we didn’t light Shabbat candles. My mother always lit four candles in beautiful silver candlesticks. And I can remember the dining room buffet where she lit them. The buffet was made of mahogany, and rested atop a soft navy blue carpet that was very warm to roll on in the winter. The candle-lighting was followed by the yummiest chicken, the softest challah, the best desserts. The best desserts. Oh, how I loved Friday nights. The warmth, the glow, the ritual . . . all starting with the candles.

And through it all . . . she lit the flames of the Shabbat candles. Because that’s what we do

And now, I have my own home. And while I find it difficult at times to accept the fact that I am indeed a grownup, and it’s my turn to light the candles and provide the memories of Friday night, I try to do my best.

But I quickly came to realize that all of that warmth and glow and yummy food and candlelight is preceded by a frenzy of activity that is often challenging to maintain. And the candles are a deadline, a finish line saying, Hurry, hurry—Shabbat is coming. Get everything done! And sometimes, I do. I really do the best job! And I capture all the right moments, and tastes and smells and spirituality. And sometimes—I don’t. And the chicken is dry, and I’m not ready by candle-lighting. And I think that my grandmother and my mother and their mothers before them and all the women before me must have had a magic wand or a potion, or . . . they got it all right, and I am missing something.

But maybe in those times, the candles are more important than ever. Because they can remind us of the spirit of Shabbat, and how it’s time to stop the frenzy. It’s time to slow down. It’s time to give yourself a break from the insanity and the pressures of daily life.

Maybe it’s okay if the chicken is occasionally not perfect. (Or maybe I ran to the store for a roasted chicken, and didn’t cook it myself at all!) The lights of the candles have arrived. And now I just need to hold my children close, and watch as my husband says the blessing over their little keppies (heads), and we continue to practice, as the flame is passed from generation to generation.

Suzy Welner Tavolacci lives on Long Island, and participates in a wide variety of local Jewish activities. She is the mother of two boys, who currently love going to synagogue because of the cookies. They both help her light the candles each week!
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Anonymous March 29, 2015

Please tell me what prayer at the Seder table I, the grandmother should say. I don't read Hebrew...but want to look like I know what I'm doing. Thank you...we are reform, but I am culturally very jewish. Thank you very much. Reply

susanblange March 1, 2013

candles You're very welcome Marlene, God bless. Reply

michael lefkowitz miami beach March 1, 2013

Bosie That was my Aunt!!! Thanks so much for sharing Suzy! Reply

Katie February 27, 2013

Thank you Suzy, thank you for sharing your inspirational words here. I'm always looking for ways of how to create a beuatiful family environment. God is very obviously blessing your family as a result of your devotion. Thank you most kindly, Katie. Reply

Bina brooklyn February 27, 2013

FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION I love reading this warms my heart and soul..thank you:) Reply

susanblange Norfolk,Va USA February 26, 2013

The candles have a flame and fire is a symbol of holiness, ie the burning bush and the pillar of fire. Fire also illuminates the darkness bringing light. The sun is a ball of fire and the source of energy for the universe. The fire on the altar was supposed to be ever burning and we are not supposed to kindle a fire on the sabbath Reply

marlene lewis February 26, 2013

Thank you for this very heart warming article. Reply

Welcome to our candle-lighting section, where you will find the details and practicalities of lighting Shabbat candles, along with the meaning, spirituality and power of doing so . . .
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