Lighting a Fire


By Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff

When we enter this week’s parsha, Beha’alotecha, God is speaking for the first time from inside theMishkan (Tabernacle), from the space above the ark. God instructs Moses to tell Aaron that he should mount and light the lamps of the menorah and to show Aaron how to do so.

These lamps crown each of the menorah’s seven branches. Although only one of several furnishings built and consecrated for use in the Mishkan, the menorah especially resonates with us. It represents Aaron’s descendants and is a symbol of Israel.

If the menorah stands for Israel, then Aaron embodies each of us, the children of Israel. Aaron trusts in God and loves our people as we do. Aaron makes mistakes as we do. Although Aaron is the kohen gadol (high priest), we can look him in the face. He is in conversation with us.

Aaron lights the lamps of the menorah every day, recommitting to bringing us together as a community inside the Tabernacle. Perhaps, like Aaron, we are also to light the lamps of Israel.

How? We are not high priests who are expected to light the menorah for our entire people. However, we can light the lamps of those we love, so that others may see these children of Israel.

Last week, as I prepared a eulogy on behalf of my Aunt Marianne Shor (z”l), I was helping light a metaphorical menorah honoring her memory.

Marianne was my Nana’s daughter and my father’s older sister. As a child, I swam in her pool, ate her delicious brisket and watched her play Mah Jongg on her screened-in porch. The many rings, necklaces and bracelets with which she adorned herself highlighted her eclectic style. Her living-room walls covered with her oil paintings showcased her artistry.

Still, I didn’t know her as others did. Last week, I spent hours listening to stories about Marianne, told by her husband, children, in-laws, grandchildren and friends. Each person lit a different light, offering a new facet of the prism that was Marianne.

In the 1960s, Marianne looked like Marilyn Monroe, with her platinum blond hair, red lipstick and high heels. She always loved to tell jokes and laugh. She and Uncle Bob sometimesschlepped a bag of coins to Atlantic City to play and lose at the slot machines. Everyone loved her Marianne’s Irish Spaghetti dish. She brought Thanksgiving dinner to her son’s workplace so that he wouldn’t miss a home-cooked meal. She joined the Miriam Lodge in 1959, and for 54 years she never missed paying her dues and making donations. She was completely unafraid to tell people what she was thinking. I learned all this by asking questions and gathering sparks.

Aunt Marianne said she hoped to live long enough, “to have (her) picture on the Smucker’s jar.” She died at age 89, 11 years before she could smile at us from a jar of peach preserves.

I believe she would have been pleased with our conversations last week, as we shared what was sweet and what was spicy about Marianne. She gave gifts to her family: jewelry, Florida oranges and advice.

Maybe my Aunt Marianne, whose maiden name was Aaronson, gave me one last gift. This daughter of Aaron inspired me to share more family stories while we all still have the chance to sit together, lighting more lamps and telling more tales.

Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff is a local storyteller.

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