Rising up with Kindness: Blessed by Love and Jewish Traditions

By the Michael Sobell Centre Pottery Group

The Michael Sobell Centre is a Jewish day centre for the elderly based in Golders Green, London. The pottery group is honouring one of its members – Sigmund (Siggy) Ciffer.

‘We are honouring Siggy Ciffer, who survived starvation and abuse but remained positive and generous, even giving others all his food when he was starving. Siggy felt blessed by the love of his family, his Judaism and by help from people of all backgrounds.’

Siggy is a man who has maintained his humanity and kindness despite a childhood of extreme poverty in Hungary, anti-semitism at school, and teenage years suffering brutality and cruelty first in a forced labour camp and then in Mauthausen concentration camp. He stood up to persecution by remaining generous to others – even giving away all his bread in the camps when he was starving.

We are honouring a man who lost his parents and most of his brothers and sisters in the Shoah but bears no hatred for his perpetrators. Now aged 90, he has maintained and shared his courage and positive outlook on life, strengthened by keeping Jewish traditions, praying even in the camps, and being grateful for all that he has.

This sculptural installation has been planned and made by 15 regular participants in the Centre’s weekly drop-in pottery workshop, including Siggy. Most of the members are in their 80s and 90s so the work reflects all their experiences of what sustains them during adversity.

The central figure represents Siggy, holding the symbolic menorah of freedom. The black strap wrapped around him is part of prayer boxes that he used in the camps to guard and protect him. At the base of the figure are the hands of angels that he felt guided and supported him.

On the base below, there is a family table set with Shabbat candles, a mother and child, and a tree and a farm animal – all memories that were a source of strength for Siggy.

Also featured are figures of people struggling to share food, shards of mirror symbolising Kristallnacht, survivors rising up from the rubble and rescue boats still relevant today.

In front of the central figure is a cannister of oil, reminiscent of the battered old tin that Siggy found right after liberation. It contained olive oil – then very valuable – and he was able to sell the oil to buy food for himself and his starving companions so they could survive the journey back to Hungary without any money.

Finally, in front of the oil, are religious books and an open scroll in Hebrew. Rolled into a case called a mezuzah, it is affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes. The prayer, recited from generation to generation, starts: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD (is) our God, the LORD is One”.

Judith Devons, artist
Staff at the Michael Sobell Centre

Siggy Ciffer, b. 1925 Hungary.  (Figure of self; books)
Sydney Kanter, b.1926 London.  (Family table, birds)
Doreen Steinberg, b. 1926, London.   (Cutout of hands; trees)
Ruth Gilbert, b. 1930, London. (Boat people escaping)
Maisie Lesser, b. 1924 London  (People and boats)
Miriam Katz, b. 1924, Germany.  (Mother and child))
Shirley Rubin, b. 1928, Manchester. (Birds and boats)
Richard Goodenday, b. 1937 London.  (Chanukiah with wife Netta)
Netta Goodenday, b. 1935 London.  (Chanukiah with husband Richard)
Tina Cohen, b. 1945, London.  (Concentration camp victims)
Margaret Weiss, b. 1921, Hamburg.   (Mother and child)
Joe Greenwood, b. 1922, Vienna, Austria.   (Family table and people)
Ann Goldstein, b. 1918, Germany  (Lots of boats and people)
Abe Sawitz, b. 1934. South Africa.   (Fisherman’s rescue boat)
Alan Florsheim, b. 1957, London.  (Mother and child)

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