Light a Candle - Remember a Holocaust Victim
By Nick Gendler
This Wednesday evening, 11 April, we remember the victims of the Holocaust. It is Yom Hashoah, or to give it its full title, Yom Hazikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah – Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. The dates corresponds to 27 Nissan except where that date falls adjacent to Shabbat. Other dates were considered, but the Israeli Parliament finally settled on this day, between the end of Pesach and Israel Independence Day.
While many (orthodox) communities prefer to commemorate this modern catastrophe at Tisha B’Av alongside other disasters that befell the Jewish people, for the rest of us, it is felt that this tragedy, within living memory, warranted a specific and particular day of attention.
A question I have been thinking about recently concerns how we remember the Holocaust as time passes. Within a few years there will be no survivors. Nobody to provide first hand accounts of the Holocaust. Nobody who will be able to stand up and say “I was there, I know it happened because I saw it”. Combatting Holocaust denial will become harder and harder. Statistics can be disputed and manipulated and numbers, while important, lack emotion. They desensitise us – particularly numbers on the scale of the Holocaust, because six million is such a large number that it is almost impossible to comprehend.
But personal accounts tell stories in a way we can understand. Individual histories and names are meaningful. That’s why projects like Stephen Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, which now has over 55,000 filmed survivor testimonies in its archive, are so important. But making it harder for anti-semites to deny the Holocaust is only one part of our responsibility. We all need to remember, all the time, so that we may fulfil our purpose in being a beacon, doing our very best to remind the world that genocide must never be allowed to happen.
The Yellow Candle Project is a unique and important addition to the range of ways that the Holocaust is remembered. Unlike other commemorations, it allows the Holocaust and crucially, individual victims, to be remembered in the home. It allows families to talk about the Holocaust with their children in a way that
suits those children best, or indeed not to talk about the Holocaust until those children are ready, but to normalise memorialising the Holocaust so that it becomes part of Jewish practice. It’s a way for families to make remembering the Holocaust a habit, just as we remember the Exodus at Pesach.
And just as the Shoah Foundation has recognised the importance of recording individuals’ stories, so the Yellow Candle Project encourages families to remember a victim, not a statistic. The cards that accompany each candle tell the fundamental details of one human life: their name, their place, their dates. Sometimes further information about the person is available from Yad Vashem, and last year some people researched the name to discover more about that human life that they were remembering – a beautiful and moving tribute to a person whose memory might otherwise have become no more than a number, just like the dehumanising number that might have been tattooed to their arm when they arrived at their final destination.
Last year, we brought over 3,500 Yellow Candles and the project was received with overwhelming enthusiasm. This year we are distributing around 13,000 candles and are confident that we could have found homes for even more. The project has profoundly inspired the Jewish community in the UK, and indeed many people outside the Jewish community, and we are incredibly proud that it was a Masorti initiative. It was our intention from the outset that this should be a cross communal project like Mitzvah Day, and with our steering committee made up of Reform, United Synagogue and Masorti members, we can say that this objective has been achieved. We are delighted that this year, Yellow Candles will be distributed to members of synagogues across the political spectrum.
We are asking people to light a candle and to post a picture of it on social media using the hashtag #YellowCandle. We want to build awareness of the project, but more importantly we want to tell the world the names of people who perished in the Holocaust. We want to ensure that those names live on in our collective memory, and not only in the archives of Yad Vashem.
There have been genocides since the Holocaust and there will others in the future, but only by remembering previous genocides can future genocides have any hope of being averted. We can only do what we can do, and what we can do is not forget, and never stop telling the world and showing the world that this must not be allowed to happen.
We owe it to the remaining survivors to continue telling the stories, and we have a responsibility to ensure our children and grandchildren carry the torch of Holocaust remembrance and education into the future, just as we rely on future generations to continue our cherished Jewish traditions for the generations that follow them.
Nick Gendler is a member of New North London Synagogue and former Co-chair of Masorti Judaism.