MARBLEHEAD – Hanukkah is the festival of lights, and Ellen and Larry Lodgen’s Marblehead home is a festival of menorahs. Actually, the entire Lodgen Lodging – with its Coca-Cola kitchen and guestroom filled to the brim with nothing but Red Sox swag – is a whimsical festival unto itself.
At the center of this mini-Smithsonian are four shelves so full of menorahs of varying shapes, sizes, and heights that from a distance it resembles the skyline of a major city. And what a city it is. On the top sit handsome, ancient menorahs in sterling silver and brass gold, the kind you see on crests and coins. In fact, all four shelves of Menorah City are shel zahav – there are gold Stars of David, lions, and little dreidels that play “Ma’oz Tzur” when wound up. There is also glass – one menorah looks like a glass staircase, and another is a blue, blocky modernist “T” capped off with glass candleholders. There are blue and white tiles, pink ballet slippers, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse. There’s Larry’s childhood menorah from 60 years ago. Off to the side dangles a vertical string of nine glass tiles, some forest green, some royal blue, and it looks like jewelry. If you take it off the wall and lay it flat on a table, it becomes another of the Lodgens’ 90 menorahs.
“Why did this really happen?” Ellen mused about her flagship collection as the music box menorah chimed in the background. “I think it’s just because Hanukkah is something that’s important to us.” Ellen and Larry, both teachers who met while teaching at what is now the Epstein Hillel School, start large collections of meaningful items almost by accident. As Ellen said about her kosher, Coca-Cola-themed kitchen: “As soon as you have two of anything, it becomes a thing.”
The red and white kitchen as we now know it – with Coca-Cola glasses and plates sitting next to a full display case full of numerous clocks, bottles and posters – began when the Lodgens were moving into their current house 28 years ago and Ellen came upon three Coke bottles from Egypt, Israel, and America. Coincidentally, Larry had a Coke glass containing a candle and a straw. They decided to put all four of the branded items together in the kitchen, and one of their many collections was born.
The city of menorahs just outside the kitchen began in much the same way: Once they had a few, they started looking for more. When friends and family started giving them menorahs as gifts, the collection grew exponentially. (Three more are expected this year and, in a Hanukkah miracle, there’s still a bit of room on the shelves full of decades worth of mementos.) They come from far and wide: from temple gift shops to California to Israel (where Ellen and Larry go every other year and make sure to stock up on a bunch of new ones), to Plaster Fun Time and the Epstein Hillel art room, where their now-adult daughter Sara crafted her own many years ago. (Sara’s favorite is the Disney menorah, featuring Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and the rest of the crew holding up candles on their heads.) Some come from Pebble Beach resorts and others from Jerusalem souks. A life-size iron one in the living room from Ellen’s parents is rumored to be from Spain during the time of the Inquisition. However, many can also be found at Marshalls, T.J. Maxx and, ironically, the Christmas Tree Shops, which sells many smaller glass menorahs.
“T.J. Maxx has one Hanukkah table where they throw everything in the store that’s blue, but there are some Hanukkah menorahs,” said Larry.
With so many to choose from, the Lodgens pick a different one to light each night of Hanukkah. They choose at random, but enduring favorites are a simple, flat silver one capped off with a Jewish star from Larry’s Revere childhood, the Disney characters that remind them of Sara’s childhood, and the black and gold music box – the one Sara usually chose when she was young – that Larry once had to smuggle and schlep to keep a surprise.
“We were in California, I think at Pebble Beach, and I found this, and it’s really heavy,” said Larry. “And [Ellen] was off shopping on one street, and I was off on another. We were gonna meet in an hour, and I thought ‘I can’t believe I’ve gotta carry this thing all the way through,’ but I carried it and snuck it into my suitcase and she got it for Hanukkah.”
For Hanukkah gifts, Ellen and Larry sometimes receive menorahs, but they also get items to supplement their many other collections. Larry’s students at Washington Elementary School in Lynn buy him Red Sox gear for his shrine down the hall. Some friends buy them globes and maps for their collection in the den, and others buy them shot glasses, which they make sure to get on every trip to somewhere new. Others buy them salt and pepper shakers for a collection right next to the menorahs that is just as formidable, which began with Ellen’s grandmother’s chipmunk salt shakers. Or sometimes they receive dreidels, Jewish stars, mezuzot or the many other Judaic items interspersed throughout their home.
Sara calls her parents’ living room the “Judaica room,” and much of it is Ellen’s creation. She is a skilled calligrapher who designed her own ketubah, which includes a family tree designed to look like an olive tree. Close by is the entire text of Sara’s bat mitzvah haftarah rearranged into shin, and resh and he, the Hebrew letters spelling out “Sara,” and the names of the Lodgen family in the shape of a Jewish star.
“Friends come over and say it’s a museum,” said Larry. “Why aren’t we charging admission?”
They probably could, but the price would be reasonable – just bring along something you found for a dollar at a flea market – bring along something with a story.