The Kiddush Cup
by Artie Dean
On one of my last
visits to his house, my
father asked to speak to
me in private. We sat on
his couch and a melancholy
smile crossed his
lips. He looked all of his 81 years, tired of doctor’s
visits and blood tests, arthritic knees, and
pills. Only the sparkle in his eyes gave any hint
of the young soldier he once had been.
He placed a simple silver cup engraved
with the letters JD in my hand. I recognized
“This was your grandfather’s kiddush cup,”
my father said with uncharacteristic gravity.
“Don’t you still want to use it?” I asked,
feigning ignorance of the latest report from
“Did I tell you how I had this made for
Papa?” he said. I nodded slowly. “You did,
a long time ago, but tell me again.”
He leaned back in his chair. His eyes
became unfocused as he told the tale I had
last heard when I was a boy.
A Jew born in Vienna in the 1920s had
limited possibilities. My father was one of
the lucky ones. At the start of the Second
World War he escaped to England on the
Kindertransport. He spent his teen years in
London and enlisted in the English army in
1943, at 21. After the war he was stationed
in Stuttgart, Germany, as part of the occupying
forces, Because he was an English soldier
who spoke perfect German, he became
Paper money in postwar Germany was
nearly worthless. So when he wanted a
special gift for his own father, my father
traded English coffee and cigarettes for silver
“Make me a cup from these,” he told the
German silversmith, placing a fistful of coins
on the counter. “And engrave JD for my
father’s name.” How uplifting it was to know
that the cup my grandfather, Joseph Diener,
used to make kiddush was formed from
melted-down German coins. As a boy I liked
to imagine that the transformation of those
coins into my grandfather’s cup in some small
way would strike a blow to the Nazis who
had exterminated my relatives.
My father brought the cup back to London,
where his parents had lived through
the horrible years of the Blitz. In 1951 the
cup made it to America, when Dad and
his parents immigrated here. Among my
earliest memories of that cup is seeing it as Elijah’s on Passover. In our house the seder
was a serious affair, which my grandfather
led in Hebrew. The only time I was supposed
to utter a sound was to recite the Four
Questions. By the time we reached Elijah’s
cup I could hardly keep my eyes open.
Grandpa would tell me to open the door.
When I returned he’d point to the cup and
ask if the level of wine was lower. It always
was. That Elijah was a tricky prophet.
One Passover night when my grandfather
was 70, everything changed. We went to his
home, as was our custom. All was prepared
– the horseradish, the matzah, the wine. But
although he filled the cup for the blessing,
my grandfather was unable to chant
a word. That night my father took over
the leadership of our Passover seder. My
grandfather listened but said nothing, his
only response a shrug when we asked if he
was okay. He had suffered a stroke and never
spoke again. When he died the cup reverted
to my father, who used it every chance he
could to honor his own father – until he
passed it on to me.
I treasured that cup as a priceless heirloom.
I made sure to use it every Friday night
for kiddush. On Passover it never left my
side. And after my father finally succumbed
to his illness it felt especially important to
honor his memory.
This summer we hosted my wife’s parents
for Shabbat. All went well. We made kiddush
and motzi and had a fine Shabbat feast.
After the meal I heard a high-pitched metallic
shriek from the kitchen. I approached,
calmly, while my wife and mother-in-law
struggled over a jammed garbage disposal.
We’d had many such incidents – trapped
spoons, knives and forks swallowed whole
by a mechanism that knows no restraint.
But this time, the look on my wife’s face
“We can’t find your father’s cup.”
“What do you mean? I left it on the
table after kiddush. How could it have disappeared?”
The two women shrugged. Then my
mother-in-law’s gaze wandered ever so slowly
toward the clogged sink. There, lodged in
the drain, was my father’s cup.
I reached in. Tenderly I grasped the edge
and rotated. Nothing, nada, zip. No movement.
The beautiful soft silver that had
served my family so well was no match for
the disposal’s jaws. My treasured cup was
skewered from all sides.
It took a vice grip and a pair of pliers to
finally free my heirloom. This cup will never
hold wine again, I thought. I took a deep
breath. How will I ever tell my sister and
“We’ll fix it,” my wife said, renewing
my adoration for a woman who thinks nothing
is impossible. I pictured an alchemist
melting down the remains and casting it
anew. Instead we took the ill-treated cup
to a jewelry store known for doing repairs.
“Can’t do anything
with this,” the saleswoman
said. “This is
your only hope.” She
handed me the card of
a local silversmith
whose name suggested
came over on the
Mayflower. Would he
do his best for a man
whose ancestors came from Poland? My wife
insisted we find his shop immediately.
The Leonardo da Vinci of silver repair
turned my treasure over in his hands.
“It’s a kiddush cup,” I said.
“I know. I’ve seen something like this before.”
I wanted to tell him the story of the cup’s
birth, but the words dried up in my throat.
“I’ll need time to get in the mood for this
one,” he said. “Could cost three or four hundred.
We’ll see.” He put the cup in a desk
drawer. “I’ll call you when it’s ready.”
For five months we heard nothing. In the
meantime, my son, Jason, whose initials are
also JD, asked if he could one day have
the cup for his own Shabbat table. I loved
his enthusiasm. His timing could have been
better. “We’ll see. Maybe some day.”
I could wait no longer. Passover was near.
My son and his wife were coming for seder.
If the cup were missing, there would be questions.
I called the silversmith.
“No, I haven’t gotten around to it yet.
Check again in two weeks.”
Two weeks came and went, still no word.
Everything happens for a reason, or at
least that’s what my grandparents used to
say. A week later my wife and I took a vacation
in New York City and we explored
neighborhoods we’d never seen – the Lower
East Side, Little Italy, Brooklyn. When we
got to Brooklyn, she wanted to visit Borough
Park, a mostly chasidic neighborhood.
Strolling down the main shopping drag,
we passed bakeries and Judaica stores galore.
We stopped at one displaying candlesticks
in the window. My wife was interested in
a new pair.
“By any chance can you repair a kiddush
cup?” she asked after looking at the
candlesticks. They gave her a number. “Call
Yisroel. If anyone can do
it he can.”
She called. Yisroel listened
to the history of
my little cup with fascination,
as if his own
family heirloom had
been so mutilated.
“Melted German coins
to make a kiddush cup?
Of course, I understand,”
he said, as if this were his specialty.
“Send it to me by mail. I’ll fix it in two
When we got home, my wife retrieved
the cup from the indifferent local silversmith
and sent it to Yisroel in Borough Park. How
can I insure something that has no value but
is priceless, I wondered.
Good to his word, Yisroel sent the cup
back in record time. Between smelting and
soldering and bending and polishing the
repairs were nearly flawless.
My wife and I use our kiddush cup with
renewed pleasure every Friday night now.
I think my grandfather and father would be
pleased to know that their memory was
so important to us.
At the seder this year I plan to use our
rehabilitated treasure for Elijah’s cup. I hope
Jason doesn’t examine it too closely. If he
notices the slight crease near my grandfather’s
initials, I’ll have a long story to tell.
When he has children of his own sitting
around the seder table perhaps he’ll pass the
story along. Perhaps he’ll use grandpa’s heirloom
for Elijah’s cup. And if he does, I hope
he washes it by hand.
Artie Dean is the American-born son of parents
who escaped from Vienna on the Kindertransport.
He lives in Waterford, Connecticut,
and belongs to Congregation Beth El in New