A Silver Lining

by Sheldon P. Hersh (Lawrence, NY)

As a physician, I dare say I know a thing or two about noses. Not that I’m the nosey type, mind you, but I have been examining, probing, and snaking my way through noses for quite a while. So when something in a nose appears to be out of the ordinary, or when anything, for that matter, just doesn’t sit right, I stop and ruminate a while and think of the possibilities. Such was the case a number of years ago when, during a routine examination of an elderly gentleman, I found myself going back to take a second and even a third look at the inside of his nose. This gentleman had come in for an entirely unrelated matter, but there was something very peculiar about his nose. It was something that I had never seen before.

Noses typically possess an inner lining of pink, moistened tissue, but this gentleman’s nasal lining possessed a sparkling grey, if not silver, hue, a strange finding to say the least. “Does the nose bother you in any way?” I asked. “No, not at all. The nose feels just fine,” he responded. I was deliberating whether or not to move on to other matters but my curiosity was piqued, leaving me no option but to inquire further and become a bit nosier. “What kind of work do you do?” I continued. “A silversmith. I’ve been a silversmith since I was seven years of age.” And then it dawned on me that fine silver dust had more than likely entered his nose during all those many years of working with silver. With time, fine specks of metal had settled beneath the carpet of tissue lining the inside of his nose resulting in an internal tattoo.  “I see you have an interest in silver,” he remarked. “You must come and visit my home sometime. I have some very interesting old and new pieces of silver Judaica that I am sure will catch your fancy.” I was taken aback. “How could you possibly know I have an interest in Judaica?” I asked, somewhat skeptically. “Very few people know that I am interested in old silver Judaica. Tell me how is it that you know?” He paused for a moment and, with a wry smile, stated, “I saw the mezuzahs on your doors and the pictures in your consultation room, and, besides all that, you have that look– the look of a collector.”

Within three days time, I stood at his front door waiting to gain entrance to what I hoped would be a collector’s paradise filled with objects that celebrate Jewish life and tradition. I was not disappointed. The front room was drab and lifeless and one could not help but detect  the unmistakable smell of old musty furniture. But much like the sparkle of stars against a darkened sky, the glitter of silver pieces flickered  from the surfaces of  tables placed side by side in  the center of the room.

“These are my pieces,” he began, pointing to exquisite silver Kiddush cups, candle sticks, Chanukah menorahs and plates, all with Jewish themes meticulously hammered on each item by this most gifted old world craftsman. I stood in awe not knowing what to select; I would have taken them all. “I have some old pieces to show you, as well. When we left Poland in the early seventies, the government placed a limit on the amount of money that could be brought out. There was, however, no problem bringing out sliver Judaica if one so desired. And so I went about seeking out and purchasing silver Judaica and was able to leave with  a good number of pieces.” Many of these items had a tragic history, he explained, having either been sold or handed over to Polish neighbors for temporary safekeeping by Jews who were driven from their homes by occupying German forces and who would never return to reclaim their family keepsakes.

I was most attracted to these old pieces as each had a story to tell, bountiful tales of joyous family celebrations, as well as the inevitable accounts of anguish, illness and death. There was one particular piece that caught my attention. Over to the side of one table stood a tall stately Kiddush cup. What made this piece standout was its octagonal center, a stunning detail that separated this cup from all of the others.

The cup must have been a prized family possession that had passed from father to son. I imagined that with the arrival of the Sabbath, the head of the household would have taken hold of the cup and solemnly recited Kiddush while the rest of the family stood in silent reverence around the dinner table. As my fingers surrounded this beautiful cup, I suddenly found myself thinking about the original owners. What had happened to them, and where could they possibly be at this moment?  But I knew. I knew only too well what had happened to the owners. Anyone acquainted with our history would most assuredly know.

This cup survived but can tell us precious little of those who once held it close to their hearts. The fathers who blessed their children at the Sabbath table, the smiling mothers who were overjoyed that the Sabbath had finally arrived, enabling the family to be together once again.  I bought the cup and use it frequently when family and visitors come by for a Sabbath or holiday meal. I’m sure the owners would have wanted it that way.

Sheldon P. Hersh, an Ear, Nose and Throat Physician with a practice in the New York metropolitan area, is the co-author of The Bugs Are Burning, a book on the Holocaust. For more information about his work, visit:  http://tinyurl.com/86u3ous

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