Today’s menorah features Eleazar Maccabee (Judah’s little brother) and the elephant that was his downfall (because it fell down on him).
What else would I make with a ziploc bag of spent rifle casings?
With me, anything longer than it is wide is not automatically “Freudian,” it is a menorah component. (Or a DIY mezuzah case, but that’s another post.)
These particular components are .30-06 Springfield and .270 Winchester. Solid brass. Suitable for candles or oil.
Not suitable is where these spent casings were headed: they’d been donated to a school scrap art project. I “diverted” the bag upon sight, directly into my purse. Kindergarteners do not need to make art from bullets, but I do.
My scrap-art Warrior Elephant Menorah is an attempt to repurpose modern bullet casings into a menorah that acknowledges an ancient military victory. To be sure, the menorah is problematic. The whole Hanukkah story is problematic. So much so that our sages chose to omit the story from our canon. Even the Gemara gives the story but three lines of text. If you want to read Book of Maccabees 1 and 2, you’ve got to find yourself a Catholic Bible with the Apocrypha or read Josephus: Jewish Antiquities.
THE STORY OF THE ELEPHANT AND ELEAZAR:
According to the tale, the Syrian Greek army employed warrior elephants to awe the Maccabee rebels: elephants made tipsy on fermented mulberries and grapes. Judah Maccabee’s brother Eleazer noticed a particularly well-dressed elephant and assumed it must bear King Antiochus, so he accosted the beast and stabbed it in the belly. Alas, the king was not on board, the mighty elephant died atop its attacker, and Eleazer was trampled to death. His body was discovered later, submerged in pachyderm poo.*
I will spare you my attempts to represent elephant dung with polymer clay.
Instead, here are two examples of Eleazar’s canonical place in art history. He is apparently a “type” character: a typological vehicle purported to prefigure a far more famous martyr who would come along about 165 years later. Capiche?
THE STORY OF THE MENORAH:
The rifle casings stayed in a bag on the kitchen counter for weeks while I wrestled with the idea of repurposed ammo as ritual art. The casings were beautiful—the sheen and clink and chilly heft—but I knew I could not separate intrinsic value from intended purpose (to kill animals)—and especially from purposes unintended by the manufacturer (to kill humans). Online searches revealed a disturbing weapon-art subculture that glorifies both: the obscene fruits of which would have mystified the hunters in my family, men who filled the family freezer with venison every year, and for whom guns meant food.
The thing that stayed my hand so long was the presence of pieces I would call Hate Art: works that express and incite hatred against certain groups of people, namely Jews. Sick stuff.
I also found plenty of crafters who re-use empty cases and shells as jewelry and decor, but in a more “legit” way, focusing rather on creative and sometimes ironical re-use. Lots of steampunk, too. Etsy and eBay are full of the raw materials in bulk.
I didn’t know the history of my casings, but I knew that I had to repurpose them as ammo, and not try to convert them into something that would feel disingenuous. So, bullet casings they remain, an anachronistic nod to a war that happened over 2,000 years ago. They are also vessels of light, a nod to the miraculous cruse that fueled the re-dedication of the Temple.
All other materials are scrap, too: a discarded elephant, gold trim from a costume my mom made me in high school (!), Mardi Gras beads, an earring I last wore in college, even the clay. The Playmobil man, I admit, is not and will never be scrap. How many Playmobil people have you ever seen at Goodwill, yard sales or on Craigslist? Zero, I bet. No one lets those go, not ever. You gotta buy ’em retail and then hoard, like everyone else. Playmobil is a rich kid’s toy.
I’ve loaded the menorah “cups” with olive oil via a pipette. The wicks are just cotton string. I prefer oil to candles, both because candles sitting atop these tall casings would look ungainly and because oil is a direct link to the Story. (However, thin “trick” candles slide right down and are fun for a photo shoot.)
Note the oil cups are level and the shammash is properly differentiated, and thus my menorah is kosher. A wad of half-dried, off-brand Model Magic—resuscitated in the microwave for about 15 seconds—leveled my elephant’s spine nicely.
DISCLAIMER: This is not a project for kids. This is not a DIY. I don’t recommend anyone make stuff with bullets. One of mine in the ziploc was still “live” and had to be disposed of appropriately. No, this menorah is not a “project,” it is “art” and just for me.
*The discovered-in-dung detail is found in the Scroll of Antiochus. See this article, which has proper footnotes.
MY OTHER MENORAHS at BibleBeltBalabusta are made of scrap or otherwise interesting materials, such as:
Altoids Smalls tin
Easter eggs and a ruler
V-8 engine distributor cap
Solar turkey toy
Papier-mache roast turkey
LEGO minifigs (as flames)
LEGO for human-size celebrants
LEGO for minifigure-size celebrants