Shabbos Candlesticks- A Story of Courage by (1 Story)

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I love this Retrospect site, and was especially touched by this prompt. When I saw Betsy’s posting, with the photo of her grandmother’s candlesticks, I wanted to share a photo of my own: the candlesticks I have from my own grandmother. They’re almost identical.

My grandmother was given these Shabbos candlesticks on her wedding day in Poland/Ukraine- around 1905. During a pogrom, the Cossacks were confiscating all their valuables, including the candlesticks. When my aunt, around 8 years old, saw that the Cossacks were beating her grandfather to death in the other room, she ran over and demanded that they stop. The Cossacks were so shocked that they laughed, stopped, and asked my grandmother if they could take her with them as a mascot. My grandmother said the family needed her on the farm, and the Cossacks were so impressed by my aunt’s courage that they said that she and my grandmother should go to the police station the next day, where they could take one item that the Cossacks were stealing back home with them. They stayed up all night, worrying that this was a trap, but with no choice, they went to the station and chose to take back the Shabbos candlesticks. Three years later, they carried it with them on the boat to Ellis Island, and to their new home in Hartford. I watched them “bench lichts” (light the candles) often during during my childhood. Since I inherited these candlesticks, I’ve lit them often- at ceremonies including my son’s bris, his Bar Mitzvah, and on many Shabbos evenings/Shabbats- and recall their stories of courage and hope with gratitude.

Thanks for sharing these stories, Suzy.


Profile photo of srw72 Sharon

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Sharon, as I already told you via email, I love this story so much! I’m thrilled that you decided to share it with the Retrospect community! I know you have been reading our stories for months. Now that you have tried it, I hope you will continue to write your own stories.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    What a beautiful story, Sharon. The candlesticks are amazing and you are so lucky to have them as well as the story of how they were rescued from the Cossacks by your aunt’s bravery. Welcome to Retrospect!

  3. John Shutkin says:

    What an amazing, inspirational story, Sharon! And how amazingly brave were your aunt and grandmother.

    I particuarly resonated to your story because, as I noted in an earlier story, my paternal grandfather emigrated from Ukraine in 1905. That was, not coincidentally, the year of the first Russian Revolution and a particularly tough time for Jews in Russia and surrounding areas (as if there were some easier times). It was also, I’ve come to learn, the year in which “Fiddler on the Roof” is said to have taken place.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us and I am so glad that you are now joining us on Retro. Mazel tov!

    • Sharon says:

      Thanks, John! I’m honored! I’ve loved reading your posts- so beautifully written- and sharing stories!We’re probably “landsmen,” (fellow countrymen or countrywomen) with family or neighborly ties. No surprise that Fiddler is close to my heart and that I’ve seen it about 100 times.

  4. Marian says:

    I almost cried reading this story, Sharon. What amazing courage everyone had. My mother has my paternal grandmother’s candlesticks, and they mean a lot to me.

  5. Thanx for your story Sharon and welcome to Retrospect!

    I too had a pair of candlesticks , those from my Romanian grandmother. Because, regretfully, I didn’t ask for more stories when my grandparents and parents were alive, I know nothing of the history of the candlesticks and how they were brought to the States.

    But because my cousin Kathy admired them – and she had no other memorabilia from our grandparents whereas I did – I gave them to her. She greatly treasures them and so I have no regrets!

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    I’m so happy that the photo of my grandmother’s candle sticks inspired you to join Retrospect and share this amazing story with us, Sharon. What incredible courage your aunt had (the word that just jumped to mind is “moxie”). Glad it turned out relatively well (pogroms being what they were), that everyone made it to this country and you now have these wonderful mementos on which to say the brachas.

    I confess, when my younger child was in a school production of “Fiddler on the Roof”, I even lent mine to the school for the Shabbos scene. They were very grateful and took great care of them!

    • Sharon says:

      Thanks, Betsy! Yes- it was your own moving story that inspired me to write for Retrospect for my first time! “Moxie” describes my Aunt Temma well- both in her childhood and throughout her life. How lucky I was to have had the chance to know her and listen to her stories and to those of my parents. I am truly blessed.

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    A terrible and beautiful story, and I am in awe of your aunt’s courage. Those candlesticks carry such history and they have been well used, keeping memories alive. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Sharon,
    I am glad that the beautiful candlesticks were reclaimed by your aunt and grandmother (did your grandfather die in the beating, or did your aunt’s brave intervention cause the Cossacks to back off?). What a complex retrieval plan was proffered by the Cossacks? What selective admiration, that it was ok to murder and steal, but personal valor trumped perniciousness?
    And your story reminds me, as if I had forgotten, that the Cossack blood-thirsty thug is a recurrent historical character, alive today and in all past and future (sad to say) generations.
    Welcome to this congenial and positivist (and majorly anti-Cossack) team of reflectionists.

    • Sharon says:

      Thanks so much, Jon! I’m so glad to be in your company on Retrospect, and always appreciate your postings! Miraculously, my aunt’s courageous act saved her grandfather’s life. Tragically, those relatives who didn’t come to the US were murdered later, but their legacy of love, devotion, and bravery lives on. Thanks for your welcome to this esteemed and reflective team!

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