Photo Credit: Saul Jay Singer

The beautiful and ornately designed menorahs … the glowing and twinkling candles that pierce both the darkness and our Jewish souls … the sizzling of latkes frying in oil – and the culinary delight in eating them … the delight of children playing dreidel! Chanukah is a festival that readily lends itself to broad artistic expression. Many of our greatest artists have produced striking graphic works on these subjects, and I present here a selection of original artwork and related items from my Chanukah collection.

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The importance of Mickey Mouse to Disney may perhaps best be evidenced by the fact that the Disney studio was referred to as the “Mouse House,” and the entirety of the massive Disney enterprise is often colloquially referred to as “the Mouse.” There is no definitive historical source that establishes why Walt chose a mouse, of all things, as his initial cartoon character and to launch his career and studio. Some critics suggest that Mickey, who was originally named Mortimer, was possibly inspired by a pet mouse that Walt had adopted, but even they concede that the origins of the character are unclear. Others suggest that Walt – about whom there exists compelling evidence that he was an antisemite – intentionally or subconsciously was drawing on the idea, broadly popularized by the Nazis, of the Jews as vermin.

Even the earliest Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as vermin and parasites. For example, as the narrator in the infamous antisemitic propaganda film The Eternal Jew explains, “Just as the rat is the lowest of animals, the Jew is the lowest of human beings.” In Mickey’s debut in Steamboat Willie (1928), he was not the lovable rodent we have come to know but rather a sadistic rat-like perpetrator of atrocities – in short, the perfect Nazi image for the Jews. A German newspaper article from the 1930s establishes that the link between Jewish vermin and Mickey Mouse could not be clearer:

Mickey Mouse is the most miserable idea ever revealed … Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal … Away with Jewish brutalization of the people! Down with Mickey Mouse! Wear the Swastika Cross!”

Children in most of the world grow up watching cartoons of Mickey Mouse singing and dancing. An interesting comparison, however, may be drawn between “Miki Maoz” in Israel and “Farfur” in the Palestinian Authority.

In Israel, Mickey is the same lovable mouse we have all come to know and love, and his stories in Israel, where he remains very popular, are often translations from his American adventures in the United States. Shown here is a rare item from my collection, one of the first comic books in Eretz Yisrael: the first issue of Mickey Mouse (1947), published by journalist, interpreter and poet Yehoshua Tan-Pai (original name Shie Bodshetsky, 1914-1980). Characters featured on its eight pages include Mickey, Donald Duck (“Danny Avazani”), and Pinocchio.

Note that the signs carried by the children on the front panel read Nes Gadol Haya Po (“A Great Miracle Took Place Here!”), as opposed to dreidels in America and elsewhere in the Diaspora, which display the four letters corresponding to “A Great Miracle Took Place There,” i.e., in Eretz Yisrael.

A page of the comic book also shown here tells the story of the science of electricity and candlelight accompanied by delightful drawings:

Yoram did not know the meaning,
of why rubbing a match lights it up,
What does a button on a wall,
have to do with a D-nor [name of manufacturer] electric lamp?
And why does the star
shine in the chariot?

Until the arrival of Chanukah,
The miracle of light, the kindling.

And now Yoram knows
that the light is a great miracle.
From a tin of oil light springs forth,
a bright light over everything.

From the wondrous tin, fire poured
in the star that was kindled,
in the glowing match,
in the D-Nor electric lamp.

Palestinian children also grow up watching Mickey Mouse, but on its national television, a Mickey Mouse clone wears an explosive belt, encourages children to become suicide bombers, and sings “Death to America and death to the Jews.” While carrying grenades and an AK-47, “Farfur” urges children to return the Islamic community to greatness by liberating Jerusalem with the blood of the Jews (who in a later episode are shown beating Farfur to death to silence him). Walt’s daughter, Diane Disney Miller, called Hamas “pure evil” for using Mickey to teach murder to children.

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1930 Betzalel Exhibition of Chanukah lamps.

Exhibited here is the “Catalogue of the Exhibition of Chanukah Lamps, October 5 (to) November 15, 1930, Dedicated to Professor Boris Schatz in the Semi-Jubilee Year of Bezalel’s Existence” held at the Bezalel National Museum on Bezalel Street in Jerusalem. The catalogue includes descriptions of over a hundred menorahs from across Europe, northern Africa, and Eretz Yisrael.

Schatz (1866-1932), “the Father of Israeli Art,” is best known as the founder of the Bezalel Academy of Arts, named after Bezalel ben Uri ben Chur, the legendary biblical artist and creator of the Mishkan. Schatz is credited with reviving a Jewish aesthetic consciousness and planting the seeds for artistic culture in Israel, and his vision of arts as a necessary component of Zionism played an important role in Israel’s singular commitment to the arts.

Schatz’s own work, which was heavily influenced by his traditional training in Europe, reflects romanticized, sublime and sentimental visions of Jewish personalities, religious practices and sites in Eretz Yisrael. Jewish art at the time was essentially related to the art of the Diasporan communities where the Jews happened to live, and Schatz changed that by establishing a distinctively Jewish art that employed Jewish themes and designs. Believing that a facility in Jerusalem would serve as a center for his novel Jewish art and gather talented Jewish art students from around the world, he founded Bezalel to develop and promote an indigenous artistic tradition for Eretz Yisrael. The stated goal of Bezalel was “to train the people of Jerusalem in crafts, develop original Jewish art and support Jewish artists, and to find visual expression for the much yearned-for national and spiritual independence that seeks to create a synthesis between European artistic traditions and the Jewish design traditions of the East and West, and to integrate it with the local culture of the Land of Israel.”

Schatz sought to express the national ethos through depictions of simple Jews at work and at prayer. Bezalel artists and craftsmen under his tutelage celebrated farmers, road builders and factory workers, and the Bezalel artists became noted for combining their deep feelings for Jewish themes and nationalism with remarkable skill and craftsmanship. He planted the seeds of artistic culture in Israel, and Israel’s extraordinary commitment to the arts is in no small part due to his vision of arts as a necessary component of Zionism.


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Shown here is Chanukah, an illustrated plate inscribed by Zev Raban from his famous Chagenu (Our Holidays,” 1925) series, a handsome collection of illustrations of the Jewish holidays. Rendered in the gorgeous color that characterizes much of his work, Raban’s central focus – which is framed by two dreidels at the top corners and by a tin of oil and a menorah at the bottom borders – is a family lighting a menorah in the window of their home looking out into the night. The bearded and hatted father standing to the right is kindling the menorah on the fourth night of Chanuka, with the mother holding an infant to the left, a shawl-draped elderly grandmother sitting on a chair to the rear left, and a young boy standing next to his sister, their faces largely unseen. The illumination and incredible colors lend an ethereal beauty to the entire scene.

Raban (1890-1970), who acquired his reputation through the designs he created for Bezalel, was undoubtedly one of the most important artists and designers in pre-state Eretz Yisrael. Synthesizing European techniques with authentic Jewish art based on specifically Jewish motifs, he developed a visual lexicon of Jewish themes with decorative calligraphic script and other decorative devices that came to be known as the “Bezalel style.” His work, which closely follows the historical events of the building of the Jewish State, reflected his desire to strengthen the identity of the emerging Medinat Yisrael through the revival and artistic expression of Jewish symbolism.

The Raban menorah exhibited here combines many of the complex stylistic elements and symbols characteristic of the Bezalel aesthetic, including European Art Nouveau, which is reflected in the interlacing arch around the central panel and in the graceful forms of the gazelle and the date palms. Biblical history is reflected in the central scene depicting the High Priest lighting the Temple menorah, and the arch above contain the words Haneirot Hallalu Kodesh Heim (“These Candles are Sanctified”).

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In an original drawing, which appears to be a rendition of two female acrobats, Chaim Gross dedicates the sketch “To Judy Gottleib, Happy Chanukah and best wishes from Renee and Chaim, 1952.” Gross has signed the piece below left. Female acrobats and mothers playing with small children are among his favorite themes.

Gross (1902-1991) was a modern American sculptor and educator who produced many works in different media – wood, stone, bronze, pen and ink, and watercolor – but is best known for his wood sculptures and as the author of The Technique of Wood Sculpture (1957). Born into a Jewish family in Austrian Galicia, he learned the qualities of wood in the forests of the Carpathian Mountains near his birthplace and, after he emigrated to the United States (1921), he created sculptures for public institutions, including the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

In 1933, Gross joined the government’s PWAP (Public Works of Art Project), the predecessor to the WPA (Works Progress Administration), for whom he taught art, made sculptures for schools and public colleges, and created works for Federal buildings including the Federal Trade Commission Building and for the France Overseas and Finnish Buildings at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He was also awarded a silver medal at the 1937 Exposition Universelle in Paris. He served as a professor of printmaking and sculpture at both the New School for Social Research in New York City, at the Brooklyn Museum Art School, and at the MoMA art school, among others.

In 1949, Gross sketched Chaim Weizmann, beginning with a clay portrait and then traveling to Israel hoping to have him sit for a portrait, but Weizmann was too ill. Gross returned to Israel for three months in 1951 to paint a series of 40 watercolors of life in various cities, which was exhibited at the New York Jewish Museum in 1953, and his work has been exhibited in leading museums around the world, including an exposition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Among his many awards is an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University (1978).

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Alphonse Levy’s The Festival of Chanukah.

Exhibited here is Alphonse Levy’s The Festival of Chanukah, where bears the caption in French, “The father sings to his grandson a song is repeated by kindling the Chanukah lights.” It was shown as part of The Jewish Life, an 1886 exhibition, which was well-received by the critics; however, ironically, when he published his collection of Jewish scenes in 1903, it was poorly received by the Jewish community in Paris, which accused him of showing a miserable and foul humankind.

Born into a family of strictly observant Jews, Levy (1843-1918) grew up in a rural village in Alsace and, though he moved to Paris at age 17, his best-known works remain the exaggerated yet affectionate depictions of the rural Jewish community of his childhood. Called “the Millet of the Jews,” he infused his subjects, who came from among the native and pious Jews of the French villages, with a rare combination of whimsy and love. In particular, he was struck by the beauty and majesty of Jewish tradition, which formed the core subject matter of his work and, against bitter criticism from the upper-class Jews of Paris, who refused to recognize his work, he remained determined to be “the witness of the lives of the Jewish people.” His best-known works remain depictions of the rural Jewish community of his childhood, as he sought his subjects from the Jewish people of modest means, the native and pious of his family’s villages in Alsace and Lorraine.

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The Israel Postal Authority issues Chanukah stamps which, in my opinion, are among its most beautiful. Shown here are the original artist’s drawings for the three stamps in the 1972 Chanukah series, which depict menorahs on exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The first is a brass Chanukah lamp from Morocco dated 18th to 19th century; the second is a brass lamp from 18th century Poland; and the third is a silver lamp from 17th century Germany.

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1907 Jewish National Fund flyer.

Exhibited here is a Chanukah 5668 (1907) Jewish National Fund flyer urging Jews to contribute to the JNF. The large drawing at the top is a copy rendered in red ink of the official card of the Fifth Zionist Congress (Basle, December 1901) designed by Ephraim Moses Lilien, which strikingly depicts a sad old Jew behind barbed wire that obstructs his dream of the Promised Land; an angel wearing a Magen David rests a comforting arm on his shoulder while directing his attention across the horizon to an enchanted dream-vision of Eretz Yisrael where, in the distance, robust ears of corn bend in the breeze while a Jewish farmer plows his land as he walks toward the setting sun. The legend beneath is the Hebrew verse from the thrice-daily Amidah: “May our eyes behold your return to Zion with mercy.” One can only imagine the emotional impact that this powerful illustration had on the oppressed Jews of Eastern Europe.

The accompanying text reads, in German:

Dear Fellow tribesman and member of the faith!

Two millennia ago saw the heroic struggle of the Maccabees for their freedom.

Today, a religious and national day of remembrance, a reminder of the preservation of one’s own soul. A moment particularly suitable for commemorating the needs of the present, the hope of the future.

The preconditions for obtaining a home for the Jewish people in Palestine are now more favorable and closer than ever. Each person, according to his means, should give a mite to the Jewish National Fund; a contribution to the reclamation of the soil of Eretz Yisrael, so that in our days we may still be a refuge and home for the poor Jewish wanderer.


For the Swiss National Committee. Zionist Association:

We would like your donation, for which we thank you very much in advance, in the enclosed envelope (in stamps) or by post, to our collection point, Camille Levy.

Lilien (1874-1925), an art nouveau illustrator, master printmaker and award-winning photographer, was the greatest contributor to the early visual vocabulary of the Zionist movement. His etchings, executed mainly in India ink, show a crisp, elegant line and a strong contrast between black and white areas, and many of these have entered the collective Jewish consciousness even as the artist remains generally unrecognized. For example, Lillien took the photograph of Herzl standing on the Rhine Bridge in Basel, Switzerland in 1901, which has become the definitive pictorial representation of the Father of Modern Zionism.

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Chanukah pricelist (Germany, 1927).

Exhibited here is a 1927 Chanukah pricelist from, the Kauffmann & Co., Frankfurt a. Main “Special Bookstore for Jewish and Hebrew Literature. Teaching Ads for Israel. Schools/Collective Rituals/Synagogue Embroideries.” Featuring at the top three beautiful sketches of menorahs available in its stock, the text reads, “From our extensive warehouse of Israelite ritual and cult objects and entertainment literature, we would like to recommend the following as suitable Chanukah gifts.”

In 1927, a dollar was worth about 4.2 reichsmarks, and a dollar in 1927 had the purchasing power of $17.65 today. As such, a 1927 reichsmark has the purchase price of about $4.20 in today’s dollars.

The items are listed at sales price (left column) and net price.


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Finally, comic art is an often-overlooked artistic medium that is a distinctive form of storytelling, combining literature, thoughts and emotions, and visual art – with some comic art having risen to the level of high art, to the point that many such works are exhibited in leading art museums across the world. Jewish thoughts, ideas and especially holidays have been prominently featured in the comics world, including work by Hilary C. Price, who has long been one of my favorite cartoonists. I particularly enjoy her Jewish-themed work, four samples of which are exhibited here.

Price is the creator of the delightfully quirky Rhymes with Orange – the joke is that there is no word in the English language that rhymes with “orange” – who, at age 25, became the youngest cartoonist ever to be nationally syndicated. A four-time winner of the “Silver Reuben Award” for Best Newspaper Panel Cartoon from the National Cartoonists Society (2007, 2009, 2012 and 2014), she has released several compilations of her work in books, including Hanukkomics, a collection of her comics about Jewish holidays, culture, and traditions.

In the first cartoon shown here, Price lends an amusing Jewish twist to the caricature of a Christian family returning from their annual pre-Christmas outing proudly displaying their Christmas tree strapped to the top of their car. As they drive home, however, they are surprised to see a happy Jewish family driving in the opposite direction with an oversized menorah similarly strapped to the top of their car.

In The Potatoheads, December, Mrs. Potatohead says to her agitated husband, who is sitting up in bed, “Sssh, honey, it was only a dream. No one is turning you into a latke.” In The Hanukkah Moose, a Moose whose eight antlers hold eight burning Chanukah candles says to a squirrel “You didn’t know that Moose were Jewish?” And, in the final drawing, Thanksgivukah, an American Indian couple bring large bowls of food to a grateful (Jewish) Pilgrim, who says “Maize! Potato Latkes! This feast won’t last just one day, but eight!”

Wishing a happy and healthy Feast of Lights to all!


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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at [email protected].