How many yahrzeit candles is enough?
How many yahrzeit candles is enough?

Buy yahrzeit candles in bulk? And so it goes these pandemic days

Here in California, we continue living under shelter-in-place orders. It’s gone on for so long, I’m beginning to forget what not sheltering-in-place feels like!

I’ve covered my “good” clothes with tissue paper, so they won’t get dusty and periodically I dust my unworn shoes, which do get dusty! My hair is so unruly, I look like legendary mountain man Jeremiah Johnson. As for my daily attire? Each day I glide around elegantly in sweatpants and flip-flops.

I remember years after giving birth to my children, my mother chided me for “letting myself go.” Lord, if she saw me now!

And in the latest sign I am going to hell in the proverbial handbasket, I’m thinking of buying yahrzeit candles in bulk.

Let me explain: For too many years I have been lighting candles for my parents, Julius and Dorothy Galatz; two brothers, Neil Gilbert “Gil” and Malcolm Galatz, and also, honoring my mother’s request, one for her brother, Henry Francis Kirschen, a Marine who died at age of 24 on Iwo Jima.

And come December, for the first time, I will light one for my best friend, Shannon Verser. I do not know if lighting a yahrzeit candle for a non-relative is kosher, but Shannon was more sister than friend and it will comfort me to honor her this way.

I always buy yizkor candles en masse. It’s a ritual, not dictated by religion but by silly sentiment. I cannot bring my family together for a joyous holiday gathering, but symbolically I gather them together at the start of the secular calendar year when buying their memorial candles. Standing in the store, I carefully select the “nicest” candles available and then pack them with equal care to ensure the glass doesn’t chip during the car ride home. Admittedly, it’s a strange comfort, lacking rabbinical sanction, but it is mine.

This year, with all the sheltering-in-place restrictions, I do my shopping online, mostly on Amazon. So my version of shopping “carefully” meant going down the webbed rabbit hole of comparison shopping. I discovered that by buying a box of 24 yahrzeit candles of my favored brand, I could save a fair amount of money — and have candles for years.

Alternately, I could buy a six-pack (like beer?), which — while more expensive in the long run — has the advantage of not creating a multi-year storage problem. The downside? I’m not familiar with the brand, which is concerning. But then, “more expensive” is relative. Yahrzeit candles aren’t pricey. And buying them each year is part of my ritual of remembrance. Still …

I don’t know. I’m conflicted! Do I buy the ridiculous bulk-size bundle or take a chance with Brand X? I need to make a decision soon. The first of the familial yahrzeits is approaching.

Maybe in this modern and tumultuous Covid Era, that expression “Going to hell in a handbasket” needs updating. Perhaps we should say “Going to hell in an Amazon cardboard box” or to put a more “elegant” spin on it, “Going to hell in an Amazon gift bag.”

Clearly, I am spinning out of control — like a dreidel — to mix my Judaic observational metaphors! Still, this inability to make a simple decision is frustrating.

Yet neither purchase is “wrong.” Either way, I will be lighting yahrzeit candles for the rest of my life, because the yizkor observance is one ritual this not-so-observant Jew takes seriously.

For each year and with each candle, I feel a special communion with my loved one. Looking at the small flickering flame in the glass jar that I’ve placed so deliberately on my counter, I smile and get misty-eyed. I recall favorite moments together — and, also, not-so-favorite moments. Most of all, I feel gratitude for our time together.

And all night and day, I marvel at how bright that tiny candle burns — just as do the memories and the love.

Karen Galatz
Karen Galatz

Karen Galatz is the author of Muddling through Middle Age, a weekly humor blog. An award-winning journalist, her nonfiction and fiction essays and stories have been featured in multiple publications. She lives in Berkeley and can be reached at karen@muddling.me.