April 10th, which is the 5th day of Nisan, is my mother’s yahrzeit. When she passed away a few years ago a friend said to me that our parents are the guiding light in our lives. Lighting the yarzheit for her reminds me of that. Several years earlier when my father passed I looked for a yahrzeit candle and realized that they were mainly the jelly jar food store variety. Naturally I went into my studio and created one. And although I know that some people prefer the traditional candle, I designed an electric version. I love when I see it lit how I think of my parents and the light that they were and still are in my life.
As its Yiddish name implies, yahrzeit originated as an Ashkenazic observance in the Middle Ages, although similar customs are observed by Sephardic Jews, some of whom refer to the anniversary of a death as nachalah (comfort). Traditionally it is the anniversary of the Hebrew date, not the Gregorian date. That is easy to figure out by going to a Hebrew - Gregorian calendar converter such as https://www.hebcal.com/converter. In addition to lighting the yahrzeit during the week of Shiva (mourning) and on the anniversary of the death of a loved one, it is also lit at sundown preceding the start of Yom Kippur and at sundown preceding the last day of Succot, Passover and Shavuot. In addition, many people light it on Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Rememberance Day.
Traditionally, mourners keep the candle lit for the entire 25 hours from sundown on the eve of the yahrzeit to sunset on the day of the yahrzeit. When the yahrzeit falls on Shabbat, it is customary to light the yahrzeit candle before lighting Shabbat candles.
Lighting a yahrzeit candle is a Jewish custom (minhag). While it is not required by Jewish law (halakhah), the custom of lighting yahrzeit candles has become deeply ingrained in Jewish life. Several websites, such as the National Jewish Memorial Wall and Virtual Yahrzeit maintain “virtual” walls and will send yahrzeit reminders for you free of charge.
In the synagogue, yahrzeit is observed by reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish at services. But at home there is no special prayer that must be recited while lighting a memorial candle. It does however serve as a wonderful reminder of your loved one and the light that they were in your life.
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