The Yellow Candle Project

Jewish culture By Nick Gendler 01st May 2019

In 2015 I was sent as a delegate of Masorti Judaism to the 37th World Zionist Congress. I was also on a secret mission, using the congress as a front for an altogether more important project. Matt Plen, our Chief Executive, had been developing a relationship with a supporter in America. Anglophile Eric Weiss had been observing with some envy the success of Noam and Marom in the UK and wanted to explore ways of propagating something similar over there. At the same time, we were (and still are) on the lookout for financial support. My mission was to meet with Eric and see if we could come up with a plan that would satisfy both sides. During one of the interminable conference days Eric and I slipped off for lunch and talked. We talked about Noam, and about money and about Scotland, the part of the UK for which he has a particular affinity. We got on well with each other.

Then Eric dropped his bomb. He told me about a project that was particularly close to his heart. Every year his network of Jewish Men’s Clubs distributed yellow candles to be lit on Yom HaShoah in memory of holocaust victims. He wanted to help spread the project beyond the US. Would I take it to the UK? I managed to maintain a calm exterior but inside I was reeling at the implications. I thought the idea was wonderful from the off, and could see how it could be something that went beyond the Masorti movement, so I understood the Why. But What? Where? and especially How? and Who? For the first year they would send us candles. All we needed to do was distribute them to Masorti members. But still, did we really need to take on something like this?
We’re a small organisation, stretched enough as it is to do the things we need to do. And yet, what a wonderful project this was. I really wanted to do it. We agreed to take 3,500 candles, the minimum number the Americans would provide, and I thought we’d be lucky to send out half of them. The rest would have to be held over to the following year after which, well, we would see.

The Americans would deliver the candles to the Masorti office. We just needed to find people to take them off our hands. I asked Paul Harris, the NNLS representative on the Masorti board, if he would like to take the lead on the project. It was the best decision I could have made, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. Paul didn’t hesitate. He immediately got to work with great enthusiasm. He got Yom Hashoah UK interested and with that our goal of making it a cross-communal project was achieved. The 3,500 candles flew out and the community was inspired. The following year we were able to distribute 13,000 candles, and this year, with our new backers Maccabi GB, we distributed 30,000 candles. The project goes from strength to strength and has quickly become one of the community’s foremost tools for Holocaust education. It has proved to be an ideal way for parents to introduce the Holocaust in a sensitive way to young children, embedding them with a sense of this aspect of our history. All thanks to the 37th World Zionist Congress.

Nick Gendler is a member of New North London Synagogue and a former co-Chair of Masorti Judaism.

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