In little Sheindel’s eyes, the world was full of beauty. She loved picking flowers, skating in her wooden skates on the frozen river in winter, gazing at the clouds changing their shapes in the sky and imagining them to be whatever she wanted. Sheindel and her family lived in a little village in Europe, one of the places that the Jews called a shtetl in Yiddish. For hours on end she would watch her father the blacksmith at work, as he made different tools out of molten metal that looked like gold to her, but was actually just plain brass. One day he made a pair of candlesticks that weren’t a success and came out all crooked and wrong. He was disappointed and wanted to scrap them, but Sheindel stopped him and said that she thought they were lovely. She lit candles in them every Sabbath eve, and never parted from them, even when she grew up, got married and had a daughter named Rochele. The candles in the crooked candlesticks lit up the little cradle and Sheindel hoped that her daughter would also learn to like things with flaws. Then there came days of darkness and evil. Sheindel’s husband was shot dead; the only synagogue in the village was burned down, and the Jews were driven away, across the frozen river, and herded together into a ghetto. There were no candles to light in the ghetto, but Sheindel and Rochele kept on blessing the light although darkness covered the earth.
Nava Semel’s story is one of memory and continuity and the need to seek out beauty in a world where there is so much ugliness. Sheindel’s great-granddaughter, Nava, didn’t know her, but the candlesticks survived and now, when Nava lights them and prays that the darkness won’t return, she imagines the blacksmith’s little girl in the shtetl waving her little hand at her.
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