Two Hanukkah Lamps Honor the Centennial of Leonard... Read More
Senior Curator Susan Braunstein reveals the moving story behind two Hanukkah lamps in the Jewish Museum collection that inspired a gift in honor of the composer Leonard Bernstein.
I have worked as a curator at the Jewish Museum for several decades, and over that time I have been constantly amazed and often moved by the stories that emerge from works of Judaica that have become part of the collection.
Two Hanukkah lamps by the artist David Palombo, acquired earlier this year, exemplify one of these stories, and weave an intriguing connection between three seemingly unrelated elements: the donor Ella Koren-Tenenbaum, the Hanukkah lamps, and the late composer Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990).
Born in British Mandate Palestine in 1920, David Palombo was a celebrated sculptor known for his abstract yet expressionist iron work. His two most renowned pieces include the entrance gate to the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem (The World Holocaust Remembrance Center), and the gates to the Knesset (national legislature of Israel), both in Jerusalem.
Palombo’s Hanukkah lamps in the Jewish Museum collection, created in the 1960s, are highly sculptural works similar to the artist’s monumental pieces. The often jagged and sharp elements in his work echo the struggles and tragedies of the times he lived through and that informed the subjects of his works, including the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel. Palombo died at age 46 following a tragic motorcycle accident.
The two Palombo lamps entered the Jewish Museum collection through a gift from Dr. Ella Koren-Tenenbaum. It was only after discussing the details of the acquisition that Dr. Koren-Tenenbaum shared her thoughts and emotions on why she was donating the Hanukkah lamps.
Dr. Koren-Tenenbaum’s brother, Yadin Tenenbaum, was an accomplished young flutist who, as required of most Israeli citizens, signed up for his military service at age 18. Although he was offered a position in the Israel Defense Force orchestra, he chose combat duty instead. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 19 year-old Yadin was stationed near the Suez Canal as a tank gunner. Although his tank was disabled, he and his crew managed to destroy two Egyptian vehicles before their tank sustained a direct hit. He was decorated posthumously with the Exemplary Conduct Medal for his courage.
The composer Leonard Bernstein heard Yadin’s story and wrote a haunting nocturne in his memory called Halil (the Hebrew word for flute). Bernstein dedicated the score to “the spirit of Yadin and his fallen brothers”:
“Halil” is formally unlike any other work I have written, but is like much of my music in its struggle between tonal and non-tonal forces. In this case, I sense that struggle as involving wars and the threat of wars, the overwhelming desire to live, and the consolations of art, love and the hope for peace. It is a kind of night-music, which, from its opening 12-tone row to its ambiguously diatonic final cadence, is an ongoing conflict of nocturnal images: wish-dreams, nightmares, repose, sleeplessness, night-terrors and sleep itself, Death’s twin brother. I never knew Yadin Tenenbaum, but I know his spirit.
— Leonard Bernsteinhttps://medium.com/media/32c35ee487a57b2198922743a274fde7/href
These two sets of artistic creations — the musical composition and the ceremonial objects — are therefore linked in their explorations of the destruction and disruption caused by wars, and in the power of art to help us grapple with the emotions they raise.
Commemorating the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth this year, Dr. Koren-Tenenbaum donated the two Palombo Hanukkah lamps as a gift to the Museum from her parents in memory of their son. Bernstein’s Halil has been performed numerous times in concert halls around the world, serving to keep alive the memory of this talented and heroic individual.
—Susan L. Braunstein, Senior Curator
On Tuesday, December 4 at 2 pm, celebrate Hanukkah with Senior Curator Susan Braunstein at her gallery talk This is How We Do It. Dedicated to the study of historical and contemporary Judaica for nearly 40 years, Braunstein will discuss her process in choosing and organizing this selection of Hanukkah lamps. Free with Museum Admission and RSVP at TheJewishMuseum.org/Calendar.
Two Hanukkah Lamps Honor the Centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s Birth was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.