Eisner family music box with art by Arthur Szyk
Eisner family music box with art by Arthur Szyk

The heirloom music box that still pulls on my heartstrings

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It hung for most of my childhood on the wall facing our front door. The moment you walked into our home, your eyes were immediately drawn to this music box adorned by the elaborate art of Arthur Szyk. Measuring only 7 by 9 by 2.5 inches, this little music box is one of my most cherished belongings.

The artwork depicts a large Magen David, the word “Yisrael” (written in both Hebrew and English), renderings of historical figures like the Prophet Ezekiel, as well as caricatures of a 1940s-era Israeli soldier and a pioneer. Surrounding the brightly colored artwork are the words of Shehecheyanu, which seem to perfectly reflect how it makes me feel when I pull the string and hear “Hatikvah.”

Kol od balevav p’nimah — as long as I can remember, Israel has been in my heart, in my mind and in my soul. This love was firmly transmitted from my grandparents, passed on to my mother, then to me and now to my children. Stories of my grandparents standing at the Mandelbaum Gate, longing to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, were juxtaposed with stories of my grandfather’s first touch of the Western Wall.

Eisner family music box with art by Arthur Szyk
Eisner family music box with art by Arthur Szyk

We never celebrated a holiday without acknowledging that our seder plate and hanukkiah were brought from Israel. Letters from our cousins Chaim and Shoshanah, who still live just outside of Tel Aviv, were read out loud and cherished by our entire family.

My relationship with Israel has always been deep. Since I first visited at age 18, I’ve been back 13 times — and I’ll never tire of going. Not only does it feel like home to me, Israel never ceases to surprise me. At each and every visit I find something new, whether it’s a new museum, a winery, a nonprofit organization doing amazing work, or a new restaurant. Israel is both old and new at the same time, simultaneously our historic home and the center for Jewish innovation. My love for Israel is etched into my heart, and I feel it is my obligation to spread that love to as many people as humanly possible.

My little music box now hangs in my office as a reminder of my mother and grandparents (z”l), their love for Israel and the love they transmitted to me. I often pull the string when I enter my office in the morning and sing “Lihyot am chofshi b’artzeinu Eretz Tziyon viYerushalayim” — As long as there is hope to be a free people in our land, there is hope for our people.

70 years of Israeli statehood! Israel Independence Day kicks off the evening of April 18. To mark the occasion, J. asked dozens of Bay Area Jews to reflect on seven decades of the Jewish state. New ones will be posted daily here.

Rabbi Dennis Eisner
Rabbi Dennis Eisner

Rabbi Dennis Eisner is the spiritual leader of Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo.