Grandson builds new lawn menorah in memory of his grandfather.
Brendan Newman must have felt a little bit like Judah Maccabee.
He didn’t restore a Holy Temple lamp, and there was no oily miracle. But last year, when he replaced the family’s stolen lawn menorah with one he built himself, he brought back a cherished family tradition.
For about 10 years, the large, wooden menorah stood on the front lawn of the home of Brendan’s grandparents, Burt and Sheila Eisenberg, in Simsbury, a condo community in West Bloomfield.
“Burt would walk around the neighborhood and see all the Christmas decorations, and he said he wanted to get something to symbolize our religion,” Sheila Eisenberg said.
He found a woman in northern Macomb County who agreed to make a menorah lawn ornament. It was 8 feet long and had “Happy Hanukkah” painted across the front. The red, yellow and blue candlesticks were topped by electric bulbs that were lit as the eight-day holiday progressed.
“It caused quite a stir,” Sheila said. Passersby stopped to comment. One neighbor sent a photo of the menorah to her son in Las Vegas every year. More than one person asked if they could buy it.
It became tradition for the family living in the Detroit area to take a group photo around the menorah at the start of the holiday: daughter Marcy Newman with her husband, Alan, and their children, Brendan, 17, and Courtney, 14; and daughter Tracy Naftaly with her husband, Gary, and their children, Jessica, 21, and Ashley, 19. A third Eisenberg daughter, Lorey Zlotnick, lives in California with her husband, Steven, and sons, Asher and Jonah.
“Everybody would moan and groan about the photo, but then they’d get their coats on and go outside. We’d take a picture of us standing around the menorah, and then it would be Chanukah,” Sheila said.
After Burt died in 2011, Eisenberg’s son-in-law Gary Naftaly helped her take the heavy menorah out of her garage and erect it on the front lawn.
Then, in 2012, the menorah disappeared.
“It was the fifth or sixth night of Chanukah,” Sheila recalled. “I came home at 3 p.m. I was in my kitchen for a few hours cooking. At 5:30 p.m., it was dark so I went out to turn on the light bulbs on the menorah — and it was gone!
“I just stood there with my mouth open. I was devastated.”
The rest of the family was distraught, too. Granddaughter Jessica was driving back to Grand Valley State University when her mother called with the news. She was so upset she had to pull off the freeway to calm down.
Brendan was particularly upset. He associated the menorah with his grandfather, with whom he’d had an especially close relationship. He was the only grandson in town, and the two liked to hang out together and do guy stuff.
“Brendan and his grandpa used to tinker around together,” Marcy Newman said. “They would build and fly model airplanes. When the menorah was stolen, Brendan felt another piece of his grandfather had been taken from him. He said, ‘How are we going to have Chanukah without Papa’s menorah?’”
Last year, Brendan, now a junior at Bloomfield Hills High School, was taking a drafting class. He decided he wanted to make a new menorah for his grandmother.
He designed it, bought the materials and did all the construction himself, including the wiring for the bulbs. He let his parents drive him to pick up materials but otherwise wouldn’t accept any help.
Brendan took a break from the project in the summer of 2013 when he went away to Tamarack’s Agree Outpost Camp. Before he left, he gave his grandmother an envelope marked “Do not open till July 2,” his grandfather’s birthday.
When she opened the envelope, Eisenberg saw a photo of Brendan with the almost-finished menorah and a note saying he’d complete it when he returned from camp.
“I had no idea he was doing this,” Sheila said. “I cried so hard I could hardly catch my breath.”
Brendan finished the menorah in October 2013, in plenty of time for Chanukah, which started early last year. He affixed a plaque in one corner: “Made with love by Brendan in memory of his papa.”
The neighborhood rejoiced with the family. “I had four or five calls from people saying how glad they were to see the menorah up again,” Sheila said.
The family never did learn what happened to the first menorah. Eisenberg figures someone wanted it gone, either because of prejudice or just to be mean. But she doesn’t miss it anymore.
“This menorah has more meaning for me than the other one,” she said. “It was made with pure, unadulterated love.”
By Barbara Lewis|Contributing Writer