Menorah of memory: Holocaust survivor expresses himself with clay

Kiwa Dajches started making ceramic menorahs after taking a ceramics class at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center.

Kiwa Dajches started making ceramic menorahs after taking a ceramics class at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center.

Since he took his first ceramics class last year at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center, Kiwa Dajches has wedged, molded and glazed many pieces of clay into Chanukah menorahs.

“I get so much enjoyment making them,” he says. So far, he’s made 14.

Dajches, a Holocaust survivor from Vilna, Poland, says he views the menorah as his connection to Judaism. “I’m a Holocaust survivor and Jewishness means a lot to me – I suffered enough for it. Somehow I seem to connect menorahs to Jewishness and I enjoy making them.”

Dajches says his favorite is a Holocaust menorah on display at the Sylvia Plotkin Judaica Museum at Temple Beth Israel. It depicts a shtetl destroyed by the Nazis, he says, and features a cemetery with many tombstones and gallows. “From the middle of the cemetery, a hand comes up into the air holding a menorah,” he says. He’s working on a larger version now.

Another Holocaust-theme menorah is “My Family Lost,” which is two scrolls wrapped in a tallit with “Shalom” painted on in Hebrew letters.

Both scrolls have names of his family members and text at the bottom reads: “They are part of the six million who perished in the Holocaust.”

“(Making menorahs) is my way of expressing myself,” Dajches says.

Other menorahs he’s made include “My Allegiance,” which features an Arizona state flag and American and Israeli flags; “Three Faiths,” with the Western Wall, a church and a mosque; “Chanukah in the South Pacific,” with hula dancers; an Arizona ranch house; and one with a New York theme complete with the Statue of Liberty and taxicabs.

Although the menorahs are not for sale – “I don’t sell my children” – two menorahs have been purchased with $100 donations to the library fund at Har Zion Congregation, where his wife is a librarian.

Dajches came to America in 1949. “It was starting a new life,” he says. He lived in Connecticut and then moved to Arizona 18 years ago.

Dajches and his wife Beverly celebrated their 50th anniversary in June and have four children: Marcia Dajches of St. Louis, Deborah Landon of Phoenix, Arlene Petranovich of Winslow and Mark Dajches of Tucson; and five grandchildren.

Many of his menorahs feature a dove, a symbol of peace. “Almost every menorah I make has a dove in it,” he says. “Because peace is something that we’re striving for.”

This article first appeared in the Dec. 3, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.