A menorah of sweet remembrance

By Nadine Wandzilak / Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Children gathered around Faith Altbush's grandmother, Hilda Rosenzweig, Sunday as she began to tell her part of a story about spoons: How, in a concentration camp during World War II, at great risk, women collected nine spoons, "like gold," to make a Menorah so the children could celebrate Chanukah.

A group of children, their families and their congregation held a special ceremony Sunday, five days before the start of Chanukah, in memory of 8-year-old Faith. She died a year ago, on Dec. 7, 2001, of a rare, incurable brain tumor.

The congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Church walked through the darkness of Faith's illness and death with the Altbush family, according to church minister Rev. Robin Zucker.

This year, they came to light a candle of a special Menorah in her memory. The menorah, made by a Marblehead silversmith, came from Faith's church classmates and their parents.

Faith's gifts, her father, Jeff, told the congregation, were her happiness and love. "Faith had a simple gift," he wrote on a page of the website devoted to her: "the ability to bring joy into people's lives."

Hearing her diagnosis was "what I imagine drowing must feel like," according to Faith's mother, Marilyn. "We were not unprepared for bad news," according to her father. But when the doctor told them what Faith had, he said he didn't understand the doctor's words. He understood, he said, when his wife began to cry. "It makes you desperate," Jeff wrote; "you have so little time."

When Faith died, "the past was painful," according to the Altbushes; the future "not much more welcoming."

Healing comes slowly," Marilyn wrote. "Time alone doesn't mend the shattered soul. It takes real work: questioning and seeking, comforting and understanding, determination to re-enter the human race," a glimmer of light in darkness.

When the congregation celebrated Chanukah last year, members had no special ritual object, according to Zucker. She thought about commissioning a special Mmenorah. Two days later, at lunch with a friend, the friend told Zucker she had just commissioned one from Marblehead silversmith. Fred Finkel, based on the true "Nine Spoons" story. When Zucker returned to her office, she said she found a message from the parents of Faith's peers. They wanted to donate something in Faith's memory.

To thank the congregation for its gift, "this special way of remembering our daughter, Faith," and to explain how he and his wife felt, Jeff told the children of the congregation a story about Faith. 'When Faith was 4 years old, she developed her own unique way of accepting a gift. She would say, 'Kiss you.'

"The first time she said this, we all laughed and thought she was silly," Jeff continued. "But then we thought about it, we realized that it was a simple and beautiful sentiment. To Faith, there was no difference between giving her thanks and giving her love.

"And that is what we are trying to say to all of you today. So as I say to you now, 'Kiss you,' you should know that you have the love of my family. Most especially, you have Faith's love as well."

Then Faith's grandfather, Abraham Rosenzweig, lit the menorah and began to recite a blessing. Emotion overcame him.

Joy and sorrow are twisted together like the handles of the spoons in this Menorah, Zucker said Sunday.

"Faith Altbush's bravery and unquenchable spirit set the standard," she continued. But "Rarely do light bearers act alone." Light-giving "is a communal enterprise."

"Each year when we kindle the flames of this Menorah," Zucker concluded, "may each candle, and the memory it holds, be valued so highly that we allow its light to lead us away from darkness and towards joy - together."

The service ended with the hymn, "This Little Light of Mine."

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