Jews have an obligation to remember, to observe yahrzeits," says Eric Weis, state chair of the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs Yellow Candle program. Last year, the project distributed 175,000 candles 13,000 in New Jersey to be lit on Yom HaShoah in memory of the 6 million. But if it was up to Weis, there would be a Yellow Candle in the home of every Jew.
Yellow candles are distributed together with a silent meditation.
"This year we hope to expand this meaningful program, which is, we believe, unique among all Holocaust remembrance activities," he says. "A yahrzeit candle is, after all, a natural and traditional way to remember a Jewish victim of the Holocaust."
The long-time Wayne resident has been active with the FJMC for ‘3 years. A member of the national board and vice president (and future executive vice president) of the group’s Northern New Jersey Region, Weis notes that Men’s Clubs formally adopted the Yellow Candle program in 1983.
"But the idea spread first among local clubs," he says, citing as an example the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, where his late father-in-law, a survivor, was active.
Today, the program is also sponsored by the Federation of Temple Brotherhoods, the Reform movement’s equivalent of the Conservative Men’s Clubs.
In northern New Jersey, says Weis, 33 synagogues participated in the program this year, reflecting a steady annual increase in the number of congregations distributing candles. The average number of candles ordered by each congregation is 400.
About two-thirds of the participating congregations including, says Weis, Temple Israel of Ridgewood and Temple Emanu-El of Closter distribute the candles, together with a meditation and an appeal for a contribution, directly to members.
On the national level, funds collected from the program are used to provide scholarships for United Synagogue Youth’s "From Darkness into Light" program, a joint venture of The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the FJMC. USY members who belong to participating congregations may apply for a scholarship to be used on a USY Israel Pilgrimage/Poland Seminar or an Eastern Europe/Israel Pilgrimage.
In addition, says Weis, individual men’s clubs may use the funds for a Holocaust-related project, such as planting a garden of the righteous, adding appropriate books to the synagogue library, or dedicating a memorial.
While candles are intended for personal observance, they are used occasionally at communal observances, says Weis, who describes a program formerly held at Shomrei Torah in Wayne.
"Each year, youngsters read the names of Holocaust victims and lit a candle for each page of names they read," he says. "It was extremely moving."
Weis says the Yellow Candle program helps "build community," noting that when a congregation sends a candle to its members, "it leads to action on the part of congregants." Besides serving as an educational initiative, he adds, "it helps build the men’s club chapter in individual congregations, raising visibility as well as money for ongoing projects."
While proceeds from the program may be used in a variety of ways, Weis suggests donating monies to the Blue Card program, which provides funds to needy survivors; to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which helps those who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust; and to American Jewish World Service, which is dedicated to fighting global poverty and is in the forefront of efforts to end the genocide in Darfur.
Weis notes that the candles themselves, originally presented in glass tumblers, now boast a new look and a new provenance. Made in Israel, the new candles come in yellow tins decorated with pictures of young people visiting the camps.
"We did this to promote the pilgrimage program and support Israel," he says.