A Menorah That Reminds Of A Gentler, Kinder America

The Liberty Menorah

The first night of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, begins tomorrow night, December 2nd. Borrowing a phrase from recently departed President George H.W Bush, this seemed like an opportune time to introduce you to Manfred Anson’s Liberty Menorah, a Hanukkah lamp that represents Freedom and Liberty.

Statue of Liberty Hanukkah Lamp

The brass Menorah combines Judaica with American Memorabilia to represent the melding of cultural heritage and freedom, institutions that many Americans feel have been threatened as of late. At a time when our country is torn regarding immigration policies (among other issues) Manfred Anson’s Liberty Menorah (aka Statue of Liberty Hanukkah lamp), which marked the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, stands as a testament to the unification of freedom and gratitude that the US once heartily embraced.

In 1986, to preserve his own cultural heritage and yet embrace his new identity as an American, immigrant and artist Manfred Anson (who died in 2012) designed a Hanukkah lamp to mark the Statue of Liberty’s centennial.

Manfred Anson, on the right, escaped Nazi Germany as a teen, later reuniting with his surviving family who had emigrated to the US, photo © and courtesy of Stephanie Comfort

I found the above photo of the Anson family posted by Stephanie Comfort on Flickr with the following caption: The young man on the right is my Manfred Anson – who was fortunately sent out of Germany by his parents to go to an Agricultural School in Australia – his parents and brother were killed – his sister survived. In Australia he became friends with another survivor. He has spent the past 40 yrs. or more in New Jersey – collecting everything about Theodore Herzel and this year his Australian friend bought his entire Collection and donated it – in Manfred’s name – to the Israeli Archives Museum in Jerusalem. Its the Herzel Room.

Manfred Anson
Manfred Anson passed away in 2012 at the age of 90.

Anson, who escaped Nazi Germany as a teenager, was later reunited with his surviving family who had emigrated to the United States.

statue of liberty menorah

For this Menorah, Anson combined a traditional Polish menorah and figurines cast from a typical 19th c. Statue of Liberty souvenir.  The artist designed it to reflect his own experience of escaping Nazi Germany, fleeing to Austria and then reuniting with his Polish family who had emigrated to the United States.

statue of liberty menorah

According to tradition, the single cruse of pure oil that kindled the Holy Temple menorah (seven-branched candelabrum) miraculously lasted for eight days, which is why Hanukkah is celebrated as the Festival of Lights.

The Statue of Liberty Hanukkah Lamp’s creation unites the spirits of gratitude and freedom evoked by both Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, is surmounted by an American eagle, and the base of each statuette is inscribed with significant dates in Jewish history.

The base of Lady Liberty is engraved with significant events in Jewish history (left four)
The base of Lady Liberty is engraved with significant events in Jewish history (left four)
The base of Lady Liberty is engraved with significant events in Jewish history
The base of Lady Liberty is engraved with significant events in Jewish history (right four)

A native of Germany, Anson described his idyllic childhood coming to an abrupt end with the Nazi rise to power in 1933. As conditions for Jews worsened, 14-year-old Manfred was enrolled at an agricultural school in the hope that he could secure a visa to emigrate to Palestine. However, just prior to the start of World War II, another opportunity presented itself and he was chosen as one of 20 boys rescued by the Jewish Welfare Guardian Society of Australia. Anson’s family was later deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic, where his mother and father survived. His younger brother Heinz was killed in Majdanek concentration camp in Poland, while his sister Sigrid survived in several camps before being liberated at Bergen-Belsen in Germany. At the end of the war, while in a rehabilitation hospital in Sweden, and unaware that her parents were alive, Sigrid wrote a letter addressed to “Manfred Anson, Australia.” Amazingly, he received it, and the siblings were in touch once again. During the war, Anson served in the Australian Army.

In 1963 Anson immigrated to the United States to join his sister; by then, unfortunately, both of their parents had passed away. An avid collector, he began to acquire memorabilia of his new country, ultimately amassing several thousand souvenirs of the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell (he also designed the Liberty Bell Menorah shown below), and the U.S. Capitol.

liberty bell menorah
The Liberty Bell at Independence Hall in Philadelphia is inscribed with the timeless message from Leviticus (25:10), “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.” This phrase is featured prominently on the menorah and is a strong reminder of the connection between the Hanukkah holiday and the fight for liberty. Each bell holds a candle, and on the rim of each bell is the name, birth date, and year of death of a famous American Jewish patriot who devoted his or her life to fighting for liberty, freedom and the revolutionary cause.

He designed his Hanukkah lamp for the centennial of the Statue of Liberty in 1986 and donated the original to the Statue of Liberty National Museum, which subsequently acquired many objects from his collection. Over the next 25 years, Anson had a number of the Hanukkah lamps cast; the one at the National Museum of American History was one of the first and one that he made for his family.

Anson used a souvenir figurine like the one above to cast the statuettes for the lamp, and the Statue of Liberty torch was transformed into a candle holder. As Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, a traditional seven-branched Polish menorah was reworked with an extra arm, with a ninth candleholder for the shamash (shown below), a servitor used to light the other candles, affixed at the front. The lamp is surmounted by an American eagle, and the base of each statuette is inscribed with significant dates in Jewish history.

Manfred Anson was proud to be an American and proud of his Jewish heritage. He was deeply honored that his personal tribute to both cultures received public recognition, and his lamp serves as a poignant reminder of what we celebrate on Thanksgiving and during Hanukkah.

Some of the above text, courtesy of Grace Cohen Grossman, former senior curator at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and a Goldman Sachs Fellow at the National Museum of American History.

The Menorah, which is owned by art collector Dr. Aaron Feingold, was lent to The White House during President Obama’s administration as part of the Hanukkah lighting ceremony in 2013.

In remarks at the event, President Obama described how Anson escaped from Germany and went on to serve in the Australian Army during World War II. “Like the Maccabees…, he fought against tyranny.” Anson, said the president, “sought a place where he could live his life and practice his religion free from fear,” ultimately settling in America. The menora (sic) he designed serves as “a reminder that our country endures as a beacon of hope and of freedom wherever you come from, whatever your faith.” (source)

Let’s hope that is still the case.

Need a menorah? Check out our picks for the best menorahs available on Amazon here

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