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Somber yet light-hearted workers pack candles for Shoah rite

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By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO, April 7 – Fueled by kosher pizza, members and guests of the Tifereth Israel Men’s Club participated Thursday night in a ceremony that was both solemn and light-hearted: the  packing of yellow candles for congregants to light at their homes the evening of April 30, Erev Yom Hashoah – the evening of Holocaust remembrance day.

If he weren’t such an anti-Semite, old Henry Ford might have been impressed by the assembly line the club put together to make the job almost as efficient as the factories at which his employees built Model-T Fords. First, specially printed cardboards were folded into boxes with the top lids left open, while at another station, information packets were assembled.  Then the yellow candles were put in; next the boxes were stuffed with the packets that included a sheet explaining the purpose of the candles,  a contribution envelope and a  printed meditation.  At the next station, the boxes were closed; at the one after that, they were labeled, and finally the labeled boxes were sorted   by Zip Code for later mailing at the Post Office.

Of course, the assembly line sometimes faltered when people inevitably began to exchange news,  especially about  their grandchildren, or when they just took  a little more time than the people doing other tasks. “More candles!” the guy closing the box might demand, while other volunteers prodded him for more fully packed boxes.  Nevertheless,  it was an efficient operation – nothing at all like the famous episode of “I Love Lucy” when Lucy and Ethel were turned loose on an assembly line, and everything went awry.

While the cause was somber — remembering the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust –the team work of friends and fellow congregants laboring together in a cause made the occasion one of pleasing companionship. 

This is the fifth year that the Men’s Club of Tifereth Israel Synagogue has participated in the program sponsored by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club s involving the men of some 400 synagogues and temples across  the United States in both Conservative and Reform congregations.

Tifereth Israel’s Men’s Club feels a particular connection to the Holocaust remembrance program because it also is the home of the New Life Club – an organization of Survivors of the Holocaust who made their way to San Diego after America and its World War II Allies liberated Europe from the Nazis.  Men’s Club President Norman Katz, a computer software architect,  is the son-in-law of two Holocaust survivors,  Max and Rose Schindler, who have frequently lectured about their experiences at Holocaust-related events.

The information packet recommended to Tifereth’s congregants that they kindle the yellow candle, just as they would like a yahrzeit candle to observe the anniversary of the death of a loved one, at a time following the end of Shabbat on Saturday evening, April 30, and then read or recite a meditation that begins:

As I light this Yellow Candle, I vow never to forget the lives
Of the Jewish men, women and children who are symbolized by this flame.
They were tortured and brutalized by human beings
who acted like beasts; their lives were taken in cruelty.

Katz said the candles were made with yellow wax to symbolize the yellow stars that Nazis forced Jews to wear on their clothing as part of the process of singling them out for degradation and later annihilation.

The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs recommended that after kindling the candles that people place them near an open window, so that they can be seen by passersby—just as Chanukah menorahs on window sills announce to the world that a victory over tyranny was won.

Furthermore, the letter solicits donations in multiples of $18—the number symbolizing “life” in Hebrew numerology—to the Tifereth Israel Men’s Club at 6660 Cowles Mountain Blvd, San Diego, California 92119, for the continuation of the program and to finance contributions to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.,  the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and various local educational programs dealing with the Holocaust.

Whereas members of the New Life Club in the past have participated in the assembly line, this year, none was present – indicative of how diminished that club’s numbers have become with the passing of time, and the frailty of those members still surviving.

This year, the entire San Diego Jewish Community will commemorate the Holocaust from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Lawrence Family JCC in a ceremony featuring Dr. Marilyn Harran, described as a scholar, author and professor of Holocaust education.   “Remember, Honor and Teach” is the theme of that commemoration.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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