Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Jew & A – memorial candle

Filed under : Jew & A,Judaism
On July 31, 2008
At 9:15 pm
Comments : 8

Edited 9/27/09 to answer all the people Googling where to buy Yahrzeit candles. In the NY area, they are sold at most supermarkets, just ask for candles. They have them at Gristedes, Food Emporium, and often even at Duane Reade.

And now, a question from… me. I didn’t use the form, I figured I’d cut out the middleman.

Dear Becca,

As usual, you forgot to buy a Yahrzeit candle until the sun began to set to begin your mother’s Yahrzeit which is, in fact, this evening. Maybe it’d help you remember if you had any inkling why one lights a candle on the anniversary date of a close loved one’s death. So, how about it?


PS, don’t forget you like to impart a lesson from your Mom on her Yahrzeit.

What a good question! It’s so freaky, but I have no idea what the answer is! I bet you didn’t see that coming. Neither does my all-purpose answer volume, Isaac Klein’s Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (although it does remind you to light a 24 hour candle, that would have been a good thing to be reminded of). Luckily, I have the Interweb as well as The Google.

(This is the actual candle, burning on my actual counter, so you can see, I did pick one up.)

It turns out, lighting a 24 hour candle on a Yahrzeit is merely a custom, not a law which comes down to us from the Torah. But in Judaism, when a custom hangs around long enough, it becomes a law. If it had come from the Torah, though, we’d have something written about why we do it. But I liked this answer from

Judaism sees similarity between a candle’s flame and a soul. The connection between flames and souls derives from the Book of Proverbs (chapter 20, verse 27): “The soul of man is the light of God.” Just as a flame is never still, the soul also continuously strives to reach up to God. Thus, the flickering flame of the Yahrzeit candle helps to remind us of the departed soul of our loved one.

So true.

Now, for the lesson. My Mom was never really a music person as her kids are, but she was always willing to listen to that rock and roll noise we were always playing. Sometimes, she even developed lesson plans for teachers based on it (she worked in Jewish education). I think her best one was about The Doors’ People Are Strange. She liked to ask kids or teachers what they thought the song was about and start a discussion that way. Because like the Jew & A question, Becca’s Mom believed there wasn’t just one right answer to any question, there were merely lots of possible lessons and discussions.

Here are some lyrics to remind you:

People are strange when you’re a stranger,
Faces look ugly when you’re alone.
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted,
Streets are uneven when you’re down.

When you’re strange
Faces come out of the rain.
When you’re strange
No one remembers your name
When you’re strange.

One answer she got that she included in future workshops was that “faces come out of the rain” meant that for strangers or lonely people, the world was seen through tears. And since everyone is a stranger or alone at some point, it is best to treat others with kindness.

So, there ya go, just as I’m sure Mr. Mojo Risin’ intended.

This is also a good time to tell you that I’ve found my next running challenge, the Metro Denver Susan G. Komen Race For the Cure which is on October 5th. I’ll be filling you in on further details on me, running for my life in high altitude (God help me), as time goes on. If you’d like to join the team with me and Kay and others to make sure other people don’t have their lives cut short like my Mom, let me know! Later, depending on how my kitchen remodel is going, there will be fancee cookies of some sort and we’ll have a whole ‘nother “Give Dough, Get Cookies” bake sale for Komen. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, be nice to each other. I’m not always good at this, but like that flame, I’m always striving.

בזכות מרים נחמה בת בת הרב יצחק
זכרונה לברכה

The Doors – People Are Strange


8 Comments for this post

Alex says

Two observations, Becca, both serious, but one more serious than the other.

1. Your mother’s memory is obviously a blessing.

2. You should always have a couple of yahrzeit candles on hand. They are perfect for when the power goes out. For one thing, they burn for 24 hours. For another, the little glass container greatly reduces the risk of fire, especially if you set them on the stovetop, or a small plate or something.

I know this because in my neighborhood the power goes out every time it rains. Or is windy. Or cloudy. Or sunny.

~dogandmusiclover~ says

This was a very interesting read, Becca.

I’m sorry about your mom. I know you miss her every day.

Take care, my friend.

sarpon says

How odd. Jim Morrison never made me cry before.

Deas says

Lovely Becca,

Someday I hope to have the privilege of meeting you.

I do have a question, but I’ll let some time pass, so I don’t look like I’m sucking up.

Judy C says


I am always torn about lighting a candle on my father’s Yahrzeit because I wonder, since he was Catholic and I converted to Judaism, would it be sacrilegious or would it offend my father wherever his soul resides.

Your tribute to your mom is lovely – you are a blessing to her memory.

Becca says

Thanks, everyone, that really means a lot. Especially the part about sunny blackouts in Maryland.

I am in a lighter mood now, as you can see.

Alex, if you are a single chick, you have plenty of candles all around. Only they’re all scented and somehow the smell of French vanilla floating through your home doesn’t seem a good memorial. But it’s just fine for when the electricity goes out.

Thank you, Dog!

Sarp, I guess you weren’t at that show in Florida where he pulled out Big Jim. I hear that made people cry.

Deas, I hope to meet you too! But ask away, whenever you feel like it.

Judy, thank you, and I think that memorial candles are used by many faiths. I often see colorful candles in Hispanic neighborhood religious stores, so maybe it’s a Catholic thing too? Either way, I think it’s a lovely gesture but I understand your not being sure.

Alex says

Becca, ugh! When I’m gone, anybody who tries to memorialize me with one of those God-awful smelly candles, I’m coming back to haunt them.

Judy, I get exactly what you mean…every year on the 27th of Adar, to be precise. I’ve decided that I do light a candle, and I do find a minyan and recite Kaddish, but it’s a very difficult personal decision. I think it’s axiomatic that in a situation like yours (and mine), whichever choice you make is the “right” one, even if what’s “right” ends up changing from year to year. After all, the very act of wrestling with the question makes you remember your father, his values, etc., etc.

KP says

I’m sorry. I missed this when it was initially posted as I have been having a rough month for a variety of reaons and have not been participating in the JBall world (among other worlds).

I wish I knew your mom Bec. She sounds smart and clever and interesting. But, then again, I know you so in a way I do know her a bit.

This was my favorite part (besides the Doors reference):
“Becca’s Mom believed there wasn’t just one right answer to any question, there were merely lots of possible lessons and discussions”
I utterly, completely, and whole heartedly agree.

Love and light to you as always my friend, and all the best to you and your efforts in Denver.
Thank you for sharing this part of your world with us.