“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” Antonio Porchia
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is considered the single holiest day in the Jewish year. It is a somber and solemn day. It is the day we atone for our sins and set the path for the new year. Who by fire? asks the Leonard Cohen song. The day is most famously marked by complete abstinence from food and water for 26 hours. This restriction is, of course, lifted where there is a threat to life or a person’s health (or in my case, God says it’s ok). Yom Kippur tends to be the holiday that Jews take the most seriously; most Jews attend synagogue for most of the day, and refrain from work
Fire and light are a comfort and a mystery. A light is like a person’s soul and Jews use candles to celebrate our deceased loved ones on the day of their passing and also on Yom Kippur.
I remember the scene in my house growing up. There are all these flickering candles in the dark for relatives that I never knew. I didn’t start lighting the yartzheit candles (as they are called) until my mom died. Traditionally it is only for your immediate family but you can light them for as many people as you want. My list gets bigger and bigger. I light one for each my parents, for all the people who have no one to light one for them, and my friend’s son who was the light of her life and died way too soon. After visiting Poland and the concentration camps and seeing all those abandoned Jewish cemeteries, I light one for all the people who died in the Holocaust. Last year I added the people who died of Covid 19 because we are all in this together. This year I add a family friend who also died way too soon. I see again all these flickering lights in the dark.
I’m sure there are fancy candles now but I prefer the old glass jar ones that I saw in my house growing up. I don’t find the candles morbid but it is comforting to see these old school candles as a connection between life and death.
I don’t know if there is a special prayer to say but I just think about them for a moment as I light each candle. I think about their memory and how their life has enriched mine. For the people I don’t know, I think that someone remembers you were here.
The candles burn for 24 hours. The whole day lends itself to memories of others and questions about how I want to live my life and how I hope I will be remembered. It’s a day to be sad but it is also ok to laugh if you remember something they did that was funny.
In my case, my mom will be saying, I’m so glad you paid attention and lit the candles for all of us, and so happy you gave your tickets away to the Banksy exhibit if you couldn’t use them, now go take a walk on the beach.