I have a very dear friend, J, someone I've known for a long time but unfortunately don't see as much as I used to. Despite our distance, we've always had a strong connection. However, life can be unpredictable, and it's not always easy to stay in touch.
Her partner reached out to me recently to inform me that J's mother had passed away suddenly. J asked if I would make a yahrzeit candle in memory of her mother. J had seen some of my lanterns before and really liked them, so they sent me a photo of the type candle they had in mind.
As someone who is not of the Jewish faith, I had never heard of a yahrzeit candle before, but I quickly learned that it is an essential part of Jewish culture. When do you light a yahrzeit candle? It's a way to remember loved ones who have passed so it is lit on the anniversary of their death and, I learned, it is also burned on Yom Kippur.
I felt honoured to be entrusted with such a meaningful task, and I set to work immediately. I scoured the internet for designs and found that there were disposable Yahrzeit candles available in small tins as well as some glass tumblers. However, it was crucial that the candle stay lit for a full 24 hours. Below the image shows the paper prototype, the Hebrew letters for remembrance and the candle in the sink overnight while I was testing it.
How I created the design for the Yahrzeit Candle
Although I typically design on a larger scale, I had experimented with some glass previously that was the perfect size for this project. I measured the glass precisely and created a paper template that fit perfectly. I then connected the template with brass grommets which has worked well in the past. It took some time to perfect the template, but once it was done, I turned my attention to the cut design and the engraving. The yahrzeit candle only required one word in Hebrew, which translated to "remember" in English. I engraved this word onto the wood and then designed a Star of David to flank it on either side.
While the Star of David is a familiar symbol, drawing it was more complicated than I expected. After much research, I settled on an ancient design that had over-under outlines and was surrounded by a circle. The space between the circle and the star became the repeating pattern of the background lattice, which I cut row by row up the glass base.
I tested the design on cotton paper before transposing it onto the wood, and I was pleased with the result. However, the detail on the Star of David was too weak, so I etched it lightly into the wood instead of cutting it completely.
Testing the Yahrzeit Candle
Finally, it was time to test the candle itself. I had a candle that fit the glass perfectly, but it only burned for a little less than 24 hours but I sourced another candle and tested it, It lasted over 25 hours so I was thrilled.
I made multiple yahrzeit candles in maple for J and her siblings, and I'm proud of the final product. The design is strong, not overly delicate, and the engraved lettering glows beautifully. The tradition of the yahrzeit candle is a beautiful way to remember loved ones who have passed, and I'm grateful to have been able to participate and provide some comfort during a difficult time.