The Yellow Candle Project
By Paul Harris
Approximately fifteen years ago, I received a call from my Dad, asking me to attend a funeral. A distant cousin whom I had never met, and had rarely heard about, had died and the family needed help to make up a minyan.
My cousin had been sent over by his family as a child from Germany just before the outbreak of WWII. He was the only person from his immediate family who survived the Holocaust and he never recovered from that. The guilt of surviving while his family did not dogged him all of his life. He had limited contact with my family over the years, even though they tried to reach out. His experiences had made it difficult for him to engage with others and he died alone. In fact, it was some weeks after his death that his body was discovered.
Earlier this year, I read about the death of a woman whom I had never heard of while she was alive. Her name was Esther Brunstein, and she died at the age of 88. She grew up in Poland and spent four years from 1940 to 1944 in various concentration camps before, ultimately, she was liberated from Bergen Belsen. She lost many members of her family and suffered great illness. But she eventually arrived in the UK and was able to build a life that she described as not being consumed or destroyed by hate. She died a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She spoke at Anti-Nazi League meetings, addressed the UN in 1998 on the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was a lead campaigner for the introduction of Holocaust Memorial Day.
These are just two lives affected by the Holocaust. We know that six million Jews perished. It is impossible to contemplate, to appreciate or understand the enormity that this figure represents. Just like the two individuals mentioned earlier, each person carries their own story, each is affected in a different way. We hear stories about the survivors and those who died. But there are also many people who survived and never really came to terms with their loss or with what they witnessed and were unable to lead full functioning lives afterwards.
Yom Hashoah is observed on the 27th of Nisan, the Jewish date on which we remember those who perished in the Holocaust. It was established by the first Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, in 1953. This year it will be observed on 23 April and, for the first time, Masorti Judaism is bringing the Yellow Candle Project to the UK. The essence of this project is to remember by name, individuals who died in the Holocaust.
The project was initiated by the Masorti Conservative movement’s Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs in 1981 in the United States and Canada, to keep alive the memory of the millions who perished in the Holocaust. The candle is modelled on the traditional Jewish memorial yahrzeit candle, but is yellow to mark the yellow stars that Jewish people were forced to wear.
We hope that many in the Masorti communities, and beyond, will take candles. Each candle will be provided with the name of a victim. Every victim was an individual with a life and a story, and we hope that this project will allow as many individuals as possible to be remembered.
We live in uncertain times. Hatred and prejudice are becoming more and more common. We have a duty to honour the memories of those lost through genocide, not just as a way to pay our respects to the past, but as a lesson for the future. Never again.
Each Masorti synagogue will have a volunteer who can be contacted by those who wish to take a candle and a name to remember. For anyone who wants more information, please contact Paul Harris at email@example.com
The Yellow Candle Project is just one part of commemorating Yom HaShoah. We also urge as many people as possible to attend the UK Jewish Community National Holocaust Remembrance
Ceremony at Barnet Copthall Stadium in London on 23rd April 2017 at 4 pm. Please visit www.yomhashoah.org.uk/NationalEvent for more information.
Let us remember together.
Paul Harris is a member of New North London Synagogue.