Candles help commemorate Holocaust victims

Candles help commemorate Holocaust victims

Project aims for year-round remembrance

The Yellow Candle project distributes memorial candles for Yom HaShoah – and plans are under way to expand it to other days when the Holocaust is commemorated. courtesy eric weis

Eric Weis thinks every Jew should light a candle to commemorate victims of the Holocaust.

“Light a candle, preserve a memory,” the Wayne resident says. Don’t try to mourn the six million all at once, “but think of one human being who was killed. That personalizes the entire experience.”

Weis – national director of the Yellow Candle project of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and the Men of Reform Judaism – has been associated with the project for some 30 years. Immediate past president of the Northern New Jersey Region of FJMC, he has worked hard to promote the concept.

“It began in 1983 when men’s clubs in Toronto and Massachusetts came up with the idea,” he said, explaining that he first heard about the project from his father-in-law, a survivor.

The candle project has grown steadily, he noted, and more than 150,000 candles are now distributed every year through men’s clubs, sisterhoods, and other organizations.

“We get orders from non-Jewish sources as well,” said Weis, “and the number of orders from schools and museums is growing.”

Modeled after traditional Jewish memorial candles, which burn for 24 hours and are lit during mourning periods and on the yahrtzeit of a loved one, the FJMC candles are made of yellow wax. A photo on the candle holder shows youngsters leaving a concentration camp, emphasizing “the importance of teaching our youth the lessons of the Holocaust and of remembering the Six Million,” according to the group’s website. Another version depicts a star of David and a strand of barbed wire, signifying the yellow armbands Jews were forced to wear.

While the original intent of project organizers was to distribute the candles, available in packs of 48, to as many individuals as possible, efforts were later made to render the project “revenue neutral” or even to raise funds by including appeal letters with each candle sent out.

“The FJMC always says that this money should be put back into Holocaust education awareness,” said Weis.

This year, FJMC will make candles available in smaller packs. According to Weis, the Ner Katan project, with candles bundled in packs of six, will help keep Holocaust awareness in the forefront throughout the year.

“It’s not just a Yom HaShoah project,” said Weis, “although that is how it has been pitched up to now. Weis recounted that he had told FJMC Executive Director Rabbi Charles Simon “that we must liberate this from Yom HaShoah.” Plans are under way to promote use of the candles on Kristallnacht, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and perhaps even Tisha B’Av – “any day when we can remember the victims of the Holocaust.”

Plans are also in the works to link the candles to specific Holocaust victims, possibly including information on their lives.

Citing research showing that most young Jewish leaders do not see Holocaust education as essential to Jewish identity, Weis said, “More projects have to be launched to commemorate the Shoah. In two generations, we’re losing a memory as seminal as that of the Babylonian captivity,” he said. “It cannot be overdone.”

“Candles and light are powerful symbols in Judaism, and young people will react to the physical act of lighting candles [more than] to a thousand words or a blog. It’s a different form of prayer and interaction with God. It’s very powerful; we think this makes a difference.”

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