From the Kibbutz Kabri newsletter
There once was, and amazingly there still is, an antique and beautiful Chanukiah.
It is over two hundred years old. It was used by a prosperous Jewish family, from the community in Rome. The Chanukiah grew and its shape recalls the Menorah as it is etched into the Arch of Titus, borne on the shoulders of the Roman soldiers taking the bounty from the Temple that had been destructed.
It is much larger than Chanukiahs of other families, because it was used in “Oratorio” - the house of prayer of a family who held a Minyan (quorum of ten men for prayers) in their home, whereby in the entire ghetto in Rome only one synagogue was allowed, although the community in Rome was the oldest in Europe.
Several years went by, one generation was born after another,. The wind of liberalism blew in Italy. The peoples’ spring arrived.
And with it the Italian Risorgimento and the Jews were active amongst the citizens who fought for their freedom.
Amongst them were the members of our family who possessed our Chanukiah.
Rome, the last of the cities of Italy, was also released and united with the young, new and independent country.
The ghetto gates fell, the majority of its residents departed like drunks, searching for freedom, equality of rights, self respect, they mixed in with all the celebrating nations, who were starting new lives. They wanted to forget the dark and hurtful past. They wanted to assimilate. Our family also stopped lighting the Chanukiah during Chanukah.
It was taken to their new and spacious apartment, however now it was simply a decorative piece, beautiful and interesting, no more than that.
It wandered with the generations from Rome to Naples, and from Naples to Milan.
Gloomy days were coming to the Jewish community in Italy. The Fascist regime was becoming closer to the Nazi regime. Anti-Semitism was renewed in the country, and after hundreds of years of forgetfulness new laws were legislated to “protect the race” - against the Jews. Amongst other prohibitions it was prohibited to employ servants and daily helps in “Aryan” homes. All our family’s servants left, apart from one - whose name was Gissela. She started sleeping outside of the house, however she would come back notwithstanding the threats by the police.
The family fled and left their home. Gissela remained to safeguard it and fought against any robbery, and although she was punched hard and long, she ran from place to place to help my sick mother, and returned to Milan to check out the situation, what remained.
The days were the days of the Holocaust. The Jews were persecuted severely. They hid, fled from one hiding place to another, and were also captured.
At the end of 1943 the family decided to do everything they could to cross over the lines between the fighting armies, in order to reach the south, where the armies of the allies were located.
The plan was carried out successfully and the family was saved.
Gissela didn’t agree to cross the lines. She returned to Milan. And found another place of work during the day.
And at night? At night she carried out her own private plan: to save whatever could be saved of the family’s property, to which she was bound in her heart. She had the key to the apartment, with which she would enter and “steal” the items that she thought were the most expensive and important: everything that had a Hebrew letter on it, antique books, silver pieces, bedding and more. And also our Chanukiah
Slowly but surely she removed one piece and another. Together with a good friend, she dug holes in a park - in the adjacent public park, in which she buried small boxes covered with tissue paper, boxes that contained what she had managed “to steal”.
The “theft” was revealed to the Germans and by a miracle Gissela was saved.
Years passed. The war was over. The persecution of the Jews ceased. The family returned to Milan and Gissela was waiting for them there with devotion. She accompanied the family members to each hole that she had dug up some time ago and gave them everything that she had managed to save.
Amongst the rest of the items - our beautiful Chanukiah. And we have it to this day, in Kabri, and we light it every day of the festival, every year, all of us together with our children and our grandchildren. Thanks to Gissela.